Note that this Website does not endorse any of the consumer adds listed at the top or bottom of this Webpage. So Caveat Emptor/Lector (Latin for let the buyer/reader beware) is highly advised for those who access these sites through this Website, since I cannot guarantee their veracity.

Wishing You A Happy Holiday Season!!!


As Of October 2022
Jimmyblues "Affordable" DAC/Headphone Amp/Headphone Collection

"Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot was the first economist to describe the law of diminishing returns in his 1770 French treatise 'Reflections on the Formation and Distribution of Wealth'.

I always base my head-fi purchases on the law of diminishing returns, in an attempt to obtain the most performance for my audio dollar.

Over the past few years I've been using headphones most of the time, so I decided to invest in some headphone gear. Of course, my interest is always based on value oriented equipment that faithfully honors the music, without costing more than it has to. Whenever possible I purchase my gear used. I will also purchase "open box" or "B Stock" if the value is there.

The following is my headphone system. It's been chosen based on what I consider to be the best value for my audio dollar. My headphone system is centered around a Schiit Modius DAC and *Schiit Lokius graphic equalizer. I've found each of these components to be an invaluable part of my system. And I consider the Modius to be the best value in a Delta Sigma DAC on the market at the present time. IMHO, it is an absolute bargain at $199.

* The Schiit Lokius replaces my Schiit Loki Mini 4 band graphic equalizer which allows me to contour the sound of my headphone system, using virtually every permutation imaginable.

The front ends I use are all digital: An Onkyo C-7030 CD player (Transport only used via optical output to the Schiit Modius optical input, C-7030 coaxial output to Schiit Modi 2 Uber coaxial input, or to an Audio By Van Alstine Insight coaxial input, or to an Entech Number Cruncher 205.2 coaxial input).

As for music servers, I use an Amazon Fire HD 8+ with the following D to A converters via a Schiit EITR USB to S/PDIF bridge: **Audio By Van Alstine Insight, Entech Number Cruncher 205.2, and Schiit Modi 2 Uber. I also use the Fire HD 8+ with the Schiit Modius via the Modius' own USB input.


** The Audio By Van Alstine Insight is the only multibit DAC that I presently own. The others are based on a delta sigma architecture.



HEADPHONE AMPLIFIERS/DACS/HEADPHONES


I have several different pieces of headphone gear that I like to mix (much of it vintage gear), in order to create different affordable systems. I have found that my *Amazon Fire HD 8+ tablet serves as an excellent and very inexpensive source for high quality music and video streaming, when its USB port is interfaced with a quality outboard digital to audio converter (DAC) - which is then fed to a quality headphone amplifier.

* I recently purchased my Amazon Fire HD 8+ on sale for about $60 delivered. It usually sells for about twice that. As an all in one player, the DAC and headphone amplifier in the Fire HD 8+ are average at best. Yet, as previously stated, when the HD 8+ is used with an outboard dac and headphone amplifier it truly becomes a superb value for a music streamer.

For example, I recently purchased an Audio By Van Alstine Insight multibit DAC from 2008 that retailed for about $1000 when new (about $1250 in 2020 dollars). I paid about $300 for it plus shipping and sales tax, for a total of just under $350. This is a great sounding DAC for a very reasonable price. Especially when one considers that most high quality contemporary multibit DACS (including R2R DACS) sell for thousands of dollars new.

One of my best deals was a Hagerman Audio Labs Castanet headphone amplifier which was actually not only built by Jim Hagerman, but also served as his personal headphone amplifier for more than a decade. New, this headphone amp sold assembled for $1500 (about $1850 in 2021 dollars). That was factory direct. If the Castanet had been purchased through a dealer with the requisite markup, it would have sold for about $2400 at the time (about $3000 in 2021 dollars). I paid just under $225 for it including shipping.

So there are many excellent used audio deals to be found. That is, if one is willing to take the time to do their research into the components they are interested in, and then patiently shop around until they find a good deal.

*The following is a list of some of my audio components, broken down by category:

HEADPHONE AMPLIFIERS

VINTAGE:

Mapletree Audio Octal Duo 300 SET
Hagerman Technology Castanet/Hagerman Audio Labs HA10
Heed Audio Canalot/Q-PSU
Antique Sound Lab MG Head DT SET
Garage1217 Project Starlight
Violectric HPA V100
Gustard H10
Meier Audio Corda Classic
Meier Audio Corda Jazz ff
Teac HA-501
NVA AP10H
Eddie Current EC/SS
Ray Samuels Emmeline HR2
Little Dot MK2
Schiit Asgard 2


DAILY DRIVERS:
DNA Starlett - Awaiting Build & Delivery Circa January 2023
iFi Zen Can Signature HD6XX
Eufonika H4
Monoprice Monolith Cavalli Liquid Platinum
Schiit Jotunheim 1
Schiit Asgard 3


GRAPHIC EQUALIZERS:
Schiit Lokius


DIGITAL TO ANALOGUE CONVERTERS:
Audio By Van Alstine Insight Multibit
Entech Audio Number Cruncher 205.2
iFi Zen Dac Signature V1
Schiit Modius


USB - S/PDIF BRIDGE:
Schiit EITR


HEADPHONES:
DYNAMIC
Sennheiser HD-650 (Massdrop HD6XX version)
Sennheiser HD-600
AKG K240 Sextett
Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon


PLANAR MAGNETIC
Hifiman HE4XX
Fostex T60RP Balanced


IEM'S
BASN B Master Triple
Linsoul KZ ZST X


REVIEWS


Antique Soundlab MG Head DT

Antique Sound Lab MG Head MKI
Availability - Used Only - Now Twenty Two Years Old, The MG Head DT Is Becoming More Of A Rarity On The Used Market; Only Available From Time To Time On E-bay And Other Internet Venues

Update: October 2022 - I have owned my ASL MG Head DT for nearly 22 years now. It is the first headphone amplifier that I ever purchased. A few years back I put the MG Head back into my headfi system, and I'm presently listening to it with a pair of Sennheiser HD600s. This synergy is quite good, and the MG Head DT offers an endless supply of clean power to effortlessly drive the HD600s. MG Head DT's don't come up for sale that often, however, when they do, decent examples can sell for under $150 US.

Earlier... *Antique Sound Lab was a Chinese manufacturer of quality tube audio components that during the 2000's became a formidable competitor within the world of Hi-End audio. Their products won prestigious awards from The Absolute Sound and Stereophile Magazines, and utilized quality components, including hand wound transformers, which were constructed within a special section of the Antique Sound Lab factory; one which focused on nothing but the lost art of transformer winding.

*According to Tash Goka, the head of Divergent Technologies (the former North American importer for Antique Sound Lab), Antique Sound Lab is no longer in business.

Over the past 22 years my ASL MG Head DT (DT standing for Divergent Technology - the former Canadian importer for Antique Sound Lab) never received much use, so about a year ago I *re-tubed it (the tubes had lost their vacuum from age rather than use) and have been using it regularly ever since.

*My MG Head DT started life as a class A biased, push pull, triode headphone amplifier, which utilized a single 12AX7 as its input driver, and a pair of EL84 output tubes.

I recently did a very simple modification to convert the MG Head from a push pull circuit into a single ended one, and it has improved the sound noticeably.

Thus, my MG Head DT is now a fully class A biased - single ended - triode headphone amplifier.

This configuration gives the MG Head DT a lush midrange that sounds wonderful on my higher impedance headphones. This amplifier sounds great on my Sennheiser HD 600 and HD 6XX headphones (both 300 ohms), as well as my vintage AKG K240 Sextetts (600 ohms).

The HD 650 and HD 600 are difficult headphones to drive, requiring quite a bit of voltage. The Sextetts are even more difficult to drive. In fact, when using the Sextetts, most of the headphone amplifiers that I own must be run with the volume fully open to get decent volume levels out of them. However, given the considerable voltage that the MG Head supplies, there's plenty of headroom when using this headphone amplifier with the Sextetts, and it simply loafs along when driving them.

The ASL MG Head is a wonderful sounding headphone amplifier that works well with all of my higher impedance headphones, and benefits noticeably from tube rolling (there are many different brands of EL84 and 12AX7 tubes on the market). It is also built like the proverbial tank. And its ALPS volume control has the most luxurious feel I have ever observed in a piece of Hi-Fi equipment - regardless of how expensive the gear.

Earlier...

In the late 1990's, after I sold off the last of my Hi End audio gear, I purchased a Bose Wave Radio which served as my only connection to the world of music for the next few years.

And I must say that at the time and to this day, I continue to be impressed with the overall simplicity of the Bose Wave Radio, its excellent sound quality, as well as its reliability. Mine must have close to 20,000 hours on it and it is still going strong after two decades.

However, by 2001 I began to miss having a real hi-fi system and decided to gradually return to the hobby through the purchase of an Antique Sound Lab MG Head DT headphone amplifier.

Antique Sound Lab was a Chinese manufacturer of quality tube audio components that become a formidable competitor within the world of hi-end audio. Their products utilized quality components, including hand wound transformers which are constructed within a special section of the Antique Sound Lab factory; one that focuses on nothing but the lost art of transformer manufacture.

Over the past two decades my MG Head DT (DT standing for Divergent Technology - the former Canadian importer for Antique Sound Lab) never received much use, so about a year ago I re-tubed it (the tubes had lost their vacuum from age rather than use) and have been using it regularly ever since.

I recently did a very simple modification to turn the MG Head from a push pull circuit to a single ended one, and it has improved the sound even more.

The ASL MG Head is a wonderful sounding headphone amplifier that works well with all of my headphones, and benefits noticeably from tube rolling. It is also built like the proverbial tank. And its ALPS volume control has the most luxurious feel I have ever observed in a piece of Hi-Fi equipment; regardless of how expensive the gear.

*The MG Head DT series I never included a preamp output section, so you have to connect the MG Head to an amplifier via its headphone output jack in order to use it as a preamplifier.

As for using the *MG Head DT as a preamplifier, the sound quality is surprisingly good, and competes favorably with my Little DOT MKII version 2 (a single ended push pull OTL headphone amp/preamp).

*As for specifications, my version of the MG Head DT is an upgraded version of the original single chassis unit, however, with the following upgrades:

"Antique Sound Labs has upgraded its MG Head DT tube headphone amplifier. The upgrade includes a mini ALPS volume control for better tracking, MIT MusicCap capacitors in the audio path, higher capacity power transformer, and JJ vacuum tubes (two EL84 and one ECC83). The MG Head DT retails for $279 US."

The only power rating that I could find for this headphone amplifier stated that it's 150 milliwatts per channel. However, it does not say at what impedance. The MG Head DT does put out quite a bit of voltage though, which works well for less efficient high impedance dynamic headphones like my 300 ohm Sennheiser HD600, HD6XX and 600 ohm AKG K240 Sextett.

What I do know is that the MG Head DT is a wonderful sounding headphone amplifier that can play at painfully loud sound levels with these headphones.


Ray Samuels Emmeline HR-2
Availability - Not Sure If The Emmeline HR-2 Is Still Available New (You'd Have To Contact Ray Samuels At His Website)/Used - Rare But Sometimes Found Through E-bay And Other Internet Venues

Update: October 2022- It still amazes me how good vintage headfi systems can sound when they are composed of pieces of equipment that synergize well with each other. And at a significantly lower cost than newer head-fi gear that may offer better objective specifications, yet sound noticeably worse subjectively. For instance, my Ray Samuels Emmeline HR-2 (about 17 years old now) works quite well with my AVA Insight multibit dac (a design that is about 15 years old) and essentially all of my headphones. Given how flexible the HR-2 is, it powers both high and low impedance dynamic headphones quite well, and also sounds great with my inexpensive planar magnetic headphones. The same can be said for many of my other vintage headphone amplifiers. What's also an added benefit is the fine construction quality of much of this older headfi gear, since while it may be affordable used, much of it was fairly expensive when sold new.

A good design is a good design.

Earlier...

I purchased my Ray Samuels Emmeline HR-2 nearly two years ago, and have recently set it up after a nearly year long hiatus. I am going to run the HR-2 with some of my vintage headfi gear during the holiday season, including my AVA Insight multbit dac and several of my headphones. I will document some of my observations with this classic piece of headfi gear in the near future.

Earlier...

I recently purchased a used Ray Samuels *Emmeline HR-2 for $275 delivered (built circa 2005 at a cost of $875 + shipping and sales tax - Just under $1300 in the present day when taking into account inflation). The Emmeline HR-2 is a robust little two chassis headphone amplifier consisting of the headphone amplifier itself and a hefty separate power supply. When this headphone amplifier debuted in 2003 it quickly gained a reputation for both excellent sound quality and exemplary build quality - given the military spec components used in its manufacture.

*All of Ray Samuels' audio products begin with the name Emmeline, who's Ray's daughter.

First impressions are as follows: The HR-2 is very well made. It has a permanently attached umbilical cord connecting the HR-2 to its external power supply. I would imagine that the HR-2 is designed to leave on all the time since it has no power switch. So you must unplug the power supply from a wall outlet whenever you want to turn the HR-2 off.

As for the sound of the HR-2, it is lush and very transparent if not a bit dark. However, there's no veil here. The midrange of the HR-2 in particular is palpable. Sonically, the HR-2 reminds me of early *Electrocompaniet amplifiers like the original 2 channel 25 watt per channel amplifier and the Ampliwire II, as well as the early Mark Levinson amplifiers (like the ML-2 monoblocks and the ML-3 stereo amp). I am referring to amplifiers that were built back in the days when Mark actually owned the company, and employed great electrical designers like Tom Colangelo and John Curl, to design the circuit topology for several of his products.

*The HR-2 also has the same color coordination (a black chassis with pale blue lettering) as the early Electrocompaniet gear.

In other words, the sound of the HR-2 is addictive to listen to for hours on end. IMHO, the HR-2 is as fatigue free as a headphone amplifier gets. And it's built to last for decades. It also easily runs every headphone I own, ranging from planar magnetics to high impedance dynamics like my Sennheiser HD6XX and HD600 (300 Ohms) - as well as my AKG K240 Sextetts (600 Ohms). The HR-2 sounds particularly good with the Hifiman HE-4XX and Fostex T50RP MK3 planar magnetic headphones.


Teac HA-501
Availability - Used Only - Fairly Common On Ebay & Other Internet Venues


UPDATE: October 2022- I've had my Teac HA-501 for over a year now and still find it to be an excellent sounding headphone amplifier for most headphones. While it's not a powerhouse (it will not power a Hifiman HE6 or other hi-end headphones that are notoriously inefficient), the HA-501 does offer more than enough power for most dynamic headphones and efficient planar magnetics.

I have found that the HA-501 powers my entry level planar magnetic headphones (Hifiman HE4XX, Fostex T60RP and Fostex T50RP MK3) with headroom to spare, as well as offering a very pleasant sound. It also sounds quite nice with the higher impedance dynamic headphones that I use it with: Sennheiser HD600, HD6XX and AKG K240 Sextett.

While the HA-501 originally sold for about $850 ($1200 List) nearly a decade ago, in the present day it can be had for a fraction of that. While there are plenty on the used market, finding nice cosmetic examples of the HA-501 is becoming more difficult, given that these headphone amplifiers are now approaching ten years of age. As such, if you can find a nice one for a reasonable price (selling prices usually range from about $300 - $500), you may want to consider purchasing it.


Earlier...

I have not had a chance to use my HA-501 much since purchasing it. However, when I first received it, I used it enough to know that it is a very nice sounding headphone amplifier. And, that it offers enough flexibility to actually sound good with many different headphones; including both planar magnetic and dynamics. I will be updating my experiences with this classic headphone amplifier in the future.

Earlier...

Now that the weather's cooled down and the Autumn season has arrived, I have been rotating some of my headphone amplifiers in and out of my headfi system. Today I'm using my Teac HA-501. I have also dug out my vintage Audio By Van Alstine Insight multibit dac to use with the Teac. For the past day I've been listening with my Sennheiser HD600's and find this combination to be very enjoyable. I am also using a pair of HD6XX's and Hifiman HE4XX's, as well as a recently purchased pair of Fostex T60RP planar magnetic headphones. I find that each of these headphones nicely complement the AVA Insight and Teac HA-501 combo.

On an aside, I was recently reading a post on headfi in regard to another enthusiast asking about purchasing either a used or NOS HA-501 for himself. Another enthusiast posted that the HA-501 is outdated and that there are much better alternatives today for similar money. In response to this, a few HA-501 owners posted that in spite of its age, they still enjoy using the HA-501 because of its class A architecture and smooth non fatiguing sound.

I am in agreement with them. I posted in answer to the above, that while the HA-501 may now lag behind modern day inexpensive headphone amplifiers such as the JDS Labs Atom (which I also own) - that are clearly objectively superior - to this Hi-Fi enthusiast, the HA-501 sounds noticeably better subjectively.

Earlier...

Now that it's Autumn here in the United States and the weather is finally cooling down, I have been using my head-fi systems more. Over the next few days I will be setting up my Teac HA-501 up for the first time since purchasing it, and will be writing about my experiences with this classic headphone amplifier. I'll also be paying attention to how it synergizes with some of my other hifi gear.

Earlier...

I have been listening to the HA-501 for the past few days, with an Amazon Fire HD10, Schiit Fulla 2 (used as a dedicated DAC), Schiit Loki Mini, a pair of Koss KSC75's, as well as a pair of Fostex T50RP MK3 headphones.

The 501 sounds great with both of these headphones. The better the quality the recordings I play, the better the 501 sounds.

I have also been experimenting with the impedance matching switch on the 501, which includes 5 different positions - ranging from low to med to high (and two positions - one between low and mid and one between mid and high).

I like the flexibility with this feature, since it gives more usability than simply a high and low impedance switch like my Schiit Asgards and Magni 3 have.

The overall sound of the 501 is typical of class A architecture, which is to say smooth. I've yet to hear a well designed pure class A amplifier that did not sound great. The 501 is dynamic enough, however, tends to focus on smoothness over other sonic traits. And in my experience, this allows for hours of fatigue free listening - even with the most aggressive digital sources.

I can understand why the 501 was talked up so much in its early days, given its functionality as well as quality build and sound signature.

Earlier: The Teac HA-501 arrived late this afternoon. After unpacking it and hooking it up, my first impressions are as follows: This is a very nicely finished headphone amplifier. At about nine pounds it is on the hefty side, and it has a nice solid feel to it. Moreover, the controls on the front panel of the 501 also exude a sense of quality.

I will be doing some light testing with the HA-501 and some different headphones over the next week or so. However, given the summer heat (and the fact that this headphone amplifier is pure Class A and runs hot), I will wait until Autumn before I really put it through its paces.

Was it worth $300? As long as it's reliable, I would have to say absolutely!


Earlier...

I recently purchased a Teac HA-501 headphone amplifier which I should receive soon. According to the seller, this particular unit was purchased new less than two years ago. Given that the HA-501 has not been manufactured since somewhere between 2014 - 2015, that would mean that this unit was sold as NOS (new old stock).

The seller said that he paid $500 for it. I paid $300 including free shipping. With sales tax, my HA-501 sold for about $325 all in. Considering this unit listed for around $1200 in 2013 and had a street price of around $850 (About $1000 in 2021 dollars adjusted for inflation), the $300 price is an exceptional bargain. That is, provided that my HA-501 is in the excellent condition it's advertised as being in.

I will update my experiences with this classic piece of gear when it arrives.


2008 Audio By Van Alstine Insight Multibit DAC
Availability - Used Only - Rare But Sometimes Found On Ebay & Other Internet Venues Including AudioGon, US AudioMart and Canuck Audiomart


Update: October 2022: I've had my AVA Insight multibit dac for the past few years now and it continues to impress me with its ability to faithfully honor the music. There are many digital to analogue converters on the market in the present day that perform very well objectively, while not sounding very good subjectively. This is the problem with selling products based on specifications alone.

For instance, back in the 1970's, consumer electronics' stores such as Tech Hi-Fi, Crazy Eddies and Audio Break Throughs, would sell their Japanese made products via objective specifications. They would usually offer a one page product brochure which had a color photo of the product on one side of the page and its specifications on the other.

The equipment usually boasted impressive objective performance specifications for the time. The problem was that most of it really did not sound very good. Audio amplifiers and preamplifiers in particular, sounded very flat and one dimensional, in spite of offering impressive build quality.

Also keep in mind that much of this equipment was sold more from an aesthetic standpoint than a high fidelity one. For instance, many of the more expensive amplifiers, preamplifiers, FM tuners, tape decks and graphic equalizers from the 1970s, were a visual feast for the eyes.

With their flashy VU meters and LED indicators, they offered a veritable light show when you turned off the lights in your listening room.

The *Audio By Van Alstine Insight Multibit DAC is the exact opposite of this equipment. To say that it is not flashy is an understatement. The Insight is as plain looking as an audio component can be. And while I have no idea what the objective specifications for this DAC are, I do know that I really enjoy listening to my headfi system when the Insight is included in the component chain.

  • *Interview With Frank Van Alstine Of Audio By Van Alstine

  • While I could wax poetic about this component, it is easier to summarize its virtues simply by stating that it faithfully honors the music. It is not the last word in detail, however, it is involving to listen to for hours on end without causing listener fatigue.

    And for this music lover, that is what good audio components are all about. Just getting you a bit closer to the message intended by the composer and the musicians.

    Earlier..

    I have always liked Frank Van Alstine's philosophy on audio. Make the most of what you have. Create an excellent circuit topology, and then incorporate it into the most cost effective chassis possible. This way you can compete with the best companies in the Hi-End Audio business, while selling your components for a fraction of the price of the most expensive brands.

  • Interview With Frank Van Alstine Of Audio By Van Alstine

  • Evidently, Frank was onto something long ago, because he has weathered many an economic storm in this hobby for nearly 50 years, while building one of the most charismatic brands and reputations in the Hi-End audio hobby.

    So when I recently had the opportunity to purchase a used AVA Insight Multibit DAC (circa 2008 for about $1250 into 2021 US Dollars) for around $350 delivered, I snapped the Insight up quickly. I have not regretted doing so, since sonically, it's a heck of a nice sounding digital to analogue converter. And not just for the money either. The Insight sounds great regardless of price. And it makes many multi thousand dollar DACS seem very overpriced by comparison.

    I rotate the Insight with my other three DAC'S - all of which IMHO - set the bar when it comes to the law of diminishing returns in audio components.


    Fostex T60RP Balanced
    Availability - New Via EBay & Amazon & Other Internet Venues/Used - Fairly Rare - Available On EBay And Used Audio Websites Such Audiogon & US Audiomart


    Update: August 2022 - Closing in on one year of ownership with my Fostex T60RP's, I continue to find them to be an excellent value in planar magnetic headphones. They sound similar to my T50RP MK3's, however, they have a more refined sound overall. For around $300 new, these really are an excellent choice for anyone who wants an affordable quality planar magnetic without breaking the bank.

    Earlier... I have been listening to my Fostex T60RP planar magnetic headphones with the system I mentioned below. Recently, I also added my Cavalli Liquid Platinum - which when used in fully balanced mode with my T60RP's - sounds quite good.

    Earlier...

    I am presently listening to the T60RP in single ended mode with my Schiit Audio Asgard 2, and it's a really nice pairing. The Asgard 2 does not have a lot of the flexibility to it that the Asgard 3 and Jotunheim 1 do. While the A3 and J1 will power both IEM's as well as virtually any headphone on the market, the Asgard 2 is a lot more finicky. What the A2 really does well is to synergize with entry level planar magnetic headphones, such as the Hifiman HE4XX, Fostex T50RP MK3, and Fostex T60RP.

    And considering that when available the Asgard 2 can be purchased for around $109 as Schiit B Stock (including a 5 year factory warranty), it represents a tremendous bargain.

    Headfi systems like this really make you question the logic in spending thousands of dollars on a headfi system, when these affordable systems sound as good as they do. Can spending all of that additional money offer that much more performance? Or is this just a perception in order to justify all of the additional expense? This is especially true with companies like Schiit Audio, which offers audio products for hundreds of dollars, that are competitive with products from other companies that cost thousands.

    I continue to find the T60RP a very enjoyable listen. With a little bit of equalization the T60RP's are so good, that I imagine that one would have to pay many times the T60RP's price, in order to obtain a headphone that sounds better. And by better, I mean marginally so.

    I think that the *Hifiman HE4XX and Fostex T50RP MK3 represent the law of diminishing returns in a planar headphone, and I can say the same for the T60RP. Even though it is more expensive, the quality of fit and finish warrants the additional increase in price over the T50RP MK3 - that is IMHO. On an aside, I am impressed with the overall build quality of the HE4XX for its price, which I think nearly rivals that of the T60RP. However, as with all Hifiman headphones, quality control remains a serious issue with the HE4XX. I received my HE4XX as an open box unit whose left channel was operating intermittently. The unit was sold as having worked perfectly.

    *Given the HE4XX's as delivered price of $116.00 (retail price through Drop.com was about $170), I decided to try to fix the problem myself. As it turns out, the person who assembled this headphone managed to glue some tiny pieces of paper toweling to the wire for the input of the left driver. By merely removing this paper, the unit began to function properly again.

    I have read of many Hifiman headphones being returned when new because one or both of their speaker drivers was either cutting out or had started working intermittently. I continue to wonder how many of these problems were to due to defective drivers, or the type of carelessness in assembly and quality control that I experienced with my HE4XX. The overall performance of the HE4XX is quite respectable given its price. And I have been enjoying mine for the past few years now. If Hifiman spends more time in regard to addressing quality control issues, perhaps more consumers of their products can have a positive experience with them.

    Earlier

    I received the balanced cable for my Fostex T60RP recently and find the cable to be very well made. It's about 4 feet long and cost about $46 delivered. I have been testing it with the balanced output of my Schiit Jotunheim 1 and Schiit Modius - along with a Behringer 9 band balanced graphic equalizer, and an Amazon Fire HD10 version 9 used as the streaming source.

    Thus far this has turned out to be a very nice sounding system. There's a good synergy between the components, and the graphic equalizer works well in boosting the T60RP bass just a bit. Its midrange and treble sound quite nice as they are.

    I plan to try to the T60RP with the balanced output of my Cavalli Liquid Platinum when I get around to it, and I'll post here when I do.

    This really is a very nice sounding headphone, and IMHO, a very good value at its $299.99 retail price.

    Earlier...

    I recently purchased a balanced cable for my Fostex T60RP headphones (which I am still awaiting) so that I can use them with some of my fully balanced headphone amplifiers. I will update my experiences with the T60RP and these other components when time allows. Especially how it sounds in fully balanced mode with my Schiit Jotunheim 1 and Cavalli Liquid Platinum.

    I recently had the opportunity to use the Fostex T60RP with my Schiit Mini system (Magni 3, Modi 2 Uber, LOKI Mini, EITR), and was very pleased with the synergy of this system. The T60RP sounds quite a bit like my T50RP MK3 (not surprising given they use the same drivers), however, the T60 has a bit more refinement in the midrange and treble. I'm not sure whether or not the mahogany ear cups have anything to do with this.

    I will update my experiences with the T60's and other Headfi equipment that I own when time allows.

    Earlier...

    I recently purchased a used pair of Fostex T60RP planar magnetic headphones for $271 all in. When purchased new, they usually sell on EBay for prices ranging from $299.99 (with free shipping plus sales tax) to well over $400, depending on the merchant.

    The T60RP does not come up on the used market as often as its T50RP MK3 brethren. There was one seller on EBay selling a damaged pair for $200 (the wooden cups had been damaged from dropping the headphones), however, they were said to be in perfect working order otherwise. I decided to wait until a better deal came along. Last week a used pair came up for sale on EBay for $249 plus sales tax. The headphones turned out to be like new, and also offered about $180 worth of options; including a Fostex balanced cable, factory sealed Fostex replacement earpads and a slappa carrying case.

    Needless to say, this was an excellent deal. Given the Covid 19 debacle, I have wiped the headphones and associated gear down with alcohol and I'm presently airing them out for a few days before I begin using the Fostex T60RP.

    First impressions: The T60RP are well made, much nicer finished than the T50RP MK3. I also really like the mahogany ear cups.

    I'll update my experiences with the T60RP and some of my Headfi gear when time allows.


    Eddie Current EC/SS
    Availability - Used Only - Very Scarce, only about 25 units were ever built, so it's nearly impossible to find an EC/SS on the used market.

    *Update September 2022: I've had my Eddie Current EC/SS for the past few years and continue to really enjoy the flexibility of this great little headphone amplifier. Considering that the EC/SS was Craig Uthus' foray into solid state headphone amplification, he really hit it out of the part with this little gem.

    Craig, the owner of Eddie Current Audio, has a well known reputation for having a gifted ear. An ear which he uses to voice his line of headphone amplifiers. Given that I usually have a cap of $400 for any audio component that I purchase, the prices of Craig's tube headphone amplifiers are well beyond that cap. So, when an Eddie Current EC/SS showed up for sale on EBay a few years ago (with a separate quality power supply), I began to quickly research it on Head-fi. I found a 10 page thread on the EC/SS which covered everything from Craig's announcing his intent to create this new solid state headphone amplifier (the first solid state headphone amplifier ever offered by Eddie Current) to early impressions on the EC/SS by those few people who'd ordered the first batch of 5 amplifiers.

    Craig's intent for the EC/SS was to build an affordable Eddie Current headphone amplifier that could take advantage of the latest op amps available at the time. To say that the EC/SS is basic is an understatement. In the interest of saving money, this diminutive headphone amplifier was only offered with an inexpensive wall wart power supply, and did not even have an LED pilot light. The money clearly went into the internals of the EC/SS, which is beautifully laid out using quality components.

    My EC/SS came with an aftermarket, heavy duty, Chinese power supply, that actually synergizes quite well with the EC/SS. My total cost for this headphone amp and this after market dedicated power supply was $395 delivered - $5 under my $400 cap. I have listened to my EC/SS with both dynamic and planar magnetic headphones, and its flexibility continues to impress me. This headphone amplifier has a pleasant tonality, is revealing, sound stages quite well, and gives more than just a taste of TOTL headphone amplifiers. Surprising, given its low price.

    I would highly recommend the Eddie Current EC/SS, except that there are only about 25 of them in the world, and as such, the EC/SS has become a collector's item that hardly ever comes up for sale on the used market. Being the precursor to the Eddie Current Black Widow, the EC/SS broke new ground for Eddie Current, as Craig Uthus ventured into solid state design.

    Earlier...

    I have been using the EC/SS with my Sennheiser HD600 and NAD HP50 VISO headphones, and find it to be an excellent match with both of them. I have also used the EC/SS with my Superlux HD681 EVO, Hifiman HE4XX and Fostex T50RP MK3. I find them all to be an excellent match as well.

    Earlier...

    *After initially closing his audio business, Craig Uthus has recently gone back into building a very limited production Eddie Current headphone amplifier. More information can be found on the Eddie Current Website

    I recently purchased an Eddie Current EC/SS headphone amplifier. This is the first solid state headphone amplifier manufactured by Eddie Current - the precursor to the Eddie Current Black Widow. Owner, Craig Uthus, wanted to take advantage of the many new op amps available at the time (late 2000's), so he decided to build this headphone amplifier. The quality is typical of Eddie Current.

    The EC/SS is comprised of a solidly built chassis using quality components, incorporated into an excellent circuit topology. The result is a headphone amplifier that puts out a full 3 watts per channel into a 32 ohm headphone, yet which will also easily drive higher impedance headphones of 300 and even 600 ohms.

    The EC/SS has a background that is nearly as silent as my JDS Labs Atom; very impressive considering the Atom is a recent and very well regarded design, while the EC/SS is more than a decade old.

    This amplifier also produces solid bass, a very clean midrange and well balanced treble.

    In fact, there's a naturalness to the Eddie Current that makes you stop listening for sounds and instead allows you to just sit back and enjoy the music.

    IMHO, the true worth of a any piece of Hi-Fi gear is how well it faithfully honors the music. And the EC/SS easily fulfills this criteria.

    I use my EC/SS with an outboard power supply (the stock EC/SS came with a wall wart to save on cost), which works quite well with this headphone amplifier.

    The EC/SS was designed around the Grado RS1 and Sennheiser HD 600 headphones; Craig's rationale was that because the Grado was rated at 32 ohm impedance and the HD 600 at 300 ohms, the EC/SS could pretty much power any headphone regardless of its output impedance.

    I have recently used the EC/SS with my AKG K240 Sextett (600 ohms), Sennheiser HD 6XX and HD 600 (both 300 ohms), Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon (25 ohms), as well as two affordable planar magnetics: the Hifiman HE-4XX and Fostex T50RP MK3 (35 and 50 ohms respectively). The EC/SS sounds excellent with each of these headphones, which shows how well designed and flexible this solidly built little headphone amplifier is.

    Eddie Current produces limited production components that are rarely found on the used market, and which usually sell quickly when they are offered second hand.

    I believe that the EC/SS was produced in two batches for a total of about 25 amplifiers.

    Mine is one of the latter EC/SS models which uses a pair of 811 op amps (It's reported that Craig preferred the sound of the 811 to the op amps that he used in his first batch of EC/SS amplifiers).


    NVA AP10
    Availability - New Through NVA Audio Website/Used - Scarce - Only Occasionally Available Used Via Internet Venues

    Having read about this rare and classic headphone amplifier a number of years ago, I searched for a used one to no avail. I looked all over the Internet patiently waiting for the opportunity to purchase one, but none were to be found.

    Eventually, after more than three years, I found a used one on Canuck Audiomart in excellent condition, for just under $200 shipped. This AP10 turned out to be in excellent mechanical as well as cosmetic condition, and cost the original owner under $325 delivered.

    At the time, NVA (short for Nene Valley Audio) was still owned by Richard Dunn, its late CEO. Richard was building NVA audio gear out of his UK home, and selling it factory direct to the public, which allowed for much more competitive prices. The AP10 headphone amplifier embodies the simplicity of circuit design that Richard was known for, and which exemplified all of his audio amplifier designs.

    As a result, there is a purity to the sound of the AP10 that is palpable. It is a very clean and dynamic sounding piece of Hi-End audio gear with a black background. My higher impedance headphones sound wonderful on this headphone amplifier - as good as any headphone amplifier I have ever used them with.

    It truly excels with acoustic instruments including the piano, guitar, cello, violin and harp.

    IMHO, with an excellent recording, the NVA AP10 will get you as close to a live performance as you can get regardless of price. Few headphone amplifiers at any price can do so.

    However, in spite of its great sound with higher impedance dynamic headphones, the AP10 does not offer quite the flexibility of other headphone amplifiers that I own. For example, I would not use it to power my planar magnetic headphones, since it was simply not designed for them.

    My AP10 is an earlier design; the later version of the AP10 (after 2003) is supposed to run both lower, mid, and higher impedance headphones well, yet, is still optimized for use with higher impedance dynamic headphones.

    *Richard passed away during the Spring of 2019. He was a brilliant circuit designer, and a very polarizing figure in the world of Hi-End audio. He will be missed. However, his talent will live on in the future of his company (**NVA Audio), which has now been purchased by two other gentlemen.

    May you Rest In Peace, Richard.

    **NVA has revamped its entire line of audio gear including the AP10 headphone amplifier. The AP10 is now available in three different configurations ranging from about $750 for a single box headphone amplifier (AP10H), an integrated amplifier version of this product (AP10P) which also has a headphone jack, for about $780, and a two box version of the headphone amplifier (AP10H+) - the second box containing a separate power supply - for about $1300. These prices exclude shipping (this is in addition to any possible custom's taxes for those who purchase this amplifier from outside of Great Britain).


    Monoprice Monolith Cavalli Liquid Platinum
    Availability - New Through Monoprice/Used - Fairly Common On Ebay & Other Internet Venues Such As AudioGon, US Audio Mart & Canuck Audiomart Mart


    *Update: September 2022: I am still enjoying my Cavalli Liquid Platinum and over the past few years have come to appreciate its flexibility as a headphone amplifier. While I have certain headphone amplifiers that excel with driving either planar magnetic or dynamic headphones (however not both), the LP does a great job of driving both of these types of headphones. And it does so effortlessly. I continue to enjoy the Cavalli "house sound" of the LP, and can understand why Dr. Alex Cavalli has so many fans.

    Earlier...

    I've had my Cavalli Liquid Platinum for almost two years now and continue to enjoy it very much. It also synergizes quite well with all of my headphones, from the low impedance planar magnetics to higher impedance dynamics. Given its flexibility, the Liquid Platinum really does cover most (if not all) of the bases in regard to headphone amplifiers.

    I can also see why Dr. Cavalli chose the name liquid for this headphone amplifier, since its sound is fluid and very easy to listen to for hours on end. When I purchased my LP during the 2020 Holiday Season, it arrived at about the same time as a *DNA Starlett demonstrator headphone amplifier that Donald North had sent me to audition. The timing could not have been better, since I was able to test the Starlett for a full month, and compare it to my new Liquid Platinum.

    The result based on listening with a few different dacs and several different headphones was that the Starlett proved to be clearly better on all fronts. However, not astoundingly so. Given that the Starlett costs $2,000 US and the LP $799.99 (I bought mine during a Monoprice holiday sale for $399.99), I would have to consider the Starlett to be the better value at the LP's list price. However, at the 50% off price, the LP easily ties the Starlett for superb value. At least, IMHO.

    * I liked the Starlett so much that when I returned it to Donald North in January of 2021, I told him that I would be calling him before year's end to place my order for a new Starlett (which can take anywhere from 6 - 10 months to build). Consequently, as of January 2022, I have recently *ordered a DNA Starlett, which should be delivered sometime around the 2022 Holiday Season.

    * Because of the Covid 19 debacle, many audio manufacturers have experienced significant delays in delivering their products on time. When I spoke with DNA owner, Donald North, back in the early part of June 2022, he told me that my Starlett would not be delivered before sometime early in 2023.

    Earlier...

    I have recently been using the Cavalli Liquid Platinum in single ended mode, with a pair of Fostex T50RP MK3 planar magnetic headphones. I've been pleasantly surprised by the sound quality, since even Dr. Cavalli has stated that the LP was created to be a fully balanced headphone amplifier. And that the single ended feature was simply for convenience.

    I must say that I find the single ended input to sound just as nice as the balanced input. Maybe even a bit smoother, yet not quite as detailed. For most fairly efficient headphones I think that the single ended mode on the LP is quite good. Only with less efficient headphones such as the Hifiman HE6, Susvara, or certain Abyss headphones, would the additional power of the balanced inputs on the LP be necessary.

    The more I listen to the LP the more I like it. I have heard of some people modifying the LP with better capacitors. However, I really don't see the need for it, since the LP sounds quite good as it is.

    Of course, there will also be those Hi-Fi enthusiasts who chase gear, while hyping whatever the latest flavor of the month's products are. Yet, there are those of us who appreciate an excellent product that will stand the test of time, while continuing to provide enjoyment long after the "new toy impression" has worn off. The Liquid Platinum is one of such products.

    I must also say that the LP is a tremendous value at its $399.99 sale price. Any price lower than this is an outright steal!

    Earlier... I've received the new balanced cable that I ordered for my Sennheiser HD600 and HD6XX headphones. Having done some brief listening thus far, these headphones paired with the Cavalli Liquid Platinum (in balanced mode) are very promising. And while I have heard in the past that the HD600, HD650 and HD6XX scale very well with better quality DAC's and headphone amplifiers, I have now confirmed it for myself - having used these headphones with a DNA Starlett and Cavalli Liquid Platinum (as well as a few other excellent single ended headphone amplifiers including a Hagerman Audio Labs Castanet, NVA AP10 and Ray Samuels Audio HR-2).

    Earlier...

    I recently purchased another balanced cable so that I can use My Cavalli Liquid Platinum (which now has close to 100 hours on it - and continues to sound better and better) with my Sennheiser HD600 and HD6XX headphones. Overall, I must say that this is one of the least fatiguing headphone amplifiers that I have ever heard. It has a nice bloom to the midrange, while still offering excellent timber, depth, width, layering, resolution, macro and micro dynamics, and sound staging.

    Earlier...

    I can see why many LP owners have stated that they like this headphone amplifier as an all rounder, since it does so much well. For me, it faithfully honors the music, and that is all that I can ask of any audio component.

    Was it worth its $399.99 price on sale at Monoprice? Without a doubt, my answer is yes!

    Earlier... I've had my Cavalli Liquid Platinum for over a month now and continue to be impressed with its performance. It is a wonderful sounding headphone amplifier that works well with headphones of virtually all impedances.

    I recently purchased a balanced headphone cable to use for the LP's balanced XLR output, so that I could use the LP with some of my balanced headphones. They include the Hifiman HE4XX and Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon. I'll need another balanced cable for the HD600 and HD6XX, as well as yet another for the Fostex T50RP MK3.

    I'll update my experiences with these headphones when I receive these cables.

    Earlier:

    I received my new Cavalli Liquid Platinum yesterday and have spent the past day listening to it. First impressions are as follows: smaller than I expected, nicely finished, interesting styling. Sound-wise, the Liquid Platinum sounds like my Cavalli Liquid Spark, only noticeably better. Specifically, the Liquid Platinum has the Cavalli Audio house sound, however, there's more of everything than the Liquid Spark.

    Based on early impressions, I think that the Liquid Platinum sounds quite good, even though it has yet to be broken in. It does run fairly warm once it has been on for a while, yet nowhere as hot as my Schiit Asgard 2 (which can double as a small space heater during the winter months).

    IMHO, at the original price of $769.99 + sales tax and free shipping, the Liquid Platinum was a good deal. At the $399.99 price it is a genuine bargain - if not an outright steal. Especially with a Monoprice backed 5 year factory warranty.

    Earlier...

    The Holiday Season is the time of year for nice discounts, which is why I purchase new audio equipment now. I rarely purchase new gear, unless it's B stock or closeout, which is where the good deals are to be had.

    A few years ago I read about Dr. Alex Cavalli deciding to partner with Monoprice, in order to manufacture a few updated versions of two headphone amplifiers, that he was going to build (prior to his company's closing).

    I decided to purchase one of these headphone amplifiers in 2018 - an open box Cavalli Liquid Spark. The LS has turned out to be a great little headphone amplifier.

    I was always fascinated by the Cavalli Liquid Platinum, and had read many positive reviews on Websites such as Headfi, Super Best Audio Friends and Audiosciencereview. However, I did not want to spend the roughly $800 to purchase a new one, since I usually cap individual spending purchases for this hobby at *$400 per item.

    *I do have a TOTL (Top Of The Line) headphone amplifier that I am very likely to purchase in the future, which will greatly exceed that cap - a headphone amplifier manufactured by DNA audio. In fact, DNA owner, Donald North, has graciously allowed me to sample this headphone amplifier in my own home for a few weeks.

    As such, I am presently testing a DNA Starlett and will comment on it within the next few days.

    Thus far, the DNA Starlett has lived up to the incredible reputation that it has built online, and Donald North has been an absolute pleasure to deal with. He, like this audio enthusiast, is also a Saab enthusiast!

    As for the Cavalli Liquid Platinum, it was on sale at Monoprice for $400, so for about $434 including sales tax and free shipping, I purchased one.

    It should arrive soon and I will comment on it then.


    Heed Audio Canalot Headphone Amplifier With Q-PSU External Power Supply
    Availability - New Through Heed Audio Dealers/ Used - Rare - Occasionally Found On Ebay, Audiogon, US Audiomart and US Canuckmart


    *Update: September 2022 - I recently purchased a used Heed Audio Canalot headphone amplifier, which includes Heed's latest modular outboard power supply - the Q-PSU. This power supply has two power outlets rather than Heed's earlier external power supply. One that I had seen in a review I'd read about on the Canalot. I Emailed Heed Audio inquiring about the differences in these power supplies, and one of their engineers was quick to respond; informing me that the Q-PSU included with my Canalot, is a later version with a regulated power supply and additional power outlet - one which can be used to power other Heed components.

    The gear I received is in beautiful condition and it was priced reasonably. The price circa 2016 was $750 for the Canalot, $450 for the Q-PSU power supply, and $400 for the *Dactillus 1.2 dac card, for a total cost of $1600 - sans shipping and sales tax. Factor in for inflation and the current price is about $2000 plus shipping and sales tax. I paid just under $650, which I consider to be an excellent value for these quality oriented components.

    *The Dactillus 1.2 dac card is also used in Heed's latest modular digital to analogue stand alone converter - the Dactillus III.

    A brief listening session with the Canalot and Q-PSU along with a Schiit Modius, Lokius and a pair of Hifiman HE4XX's has been very pleasurable. The Canalot is a pure Class A design, and sounds as such in that it has a very pleasing tonality, and provides excellent sound staging.

    I look forward to many further hours listening to the Canalot with several of my other headphones.


    Donald North Audio Starlett
    Availability - New, Custom Built Only Via Donald North Audio/Used - Scarcer Than The Proverbial Hen's Tooth

    UPDATE: September 2022 - Originally, I would have been receiving my DNA Starlett within the next two months. However, Covid 19 part's shortages have pushed back the delivery for at least a few months, into early 2023. Donald North's headphone amplifiers are both rare and highly desirable. Those of us who desire to have one custom built must wait at least a year for one. And in some cases up to two years for DNA's top of the line Stellaris.

    Donald's reputation as an excellent electronic's circuit designer has only grown over the past decade, as orders for his headphone amplifiers continue to grow, and waiting lists get longer and longer.

    As such, if you are interested in having a DNA headphone amplifier built, it would make sense to contact Donald North in order to get on his waiting list. Google DNA Audio to access Donald's Website, where you will find his company's Email address and more information on his three headphone amplifiers; The Starlett, Stratus, and Stellaris.

    Earlier...

    It looks like the wait time for a DNA Starlett is at least a year now. So if you are interested in purchasing one of these fine headphone amplifiers, you may want to consider getting on Donald North's ordering list as soon as possible. The same is true if you are interested in buying his Stratus or Stellaris headphone amplifiers. I believe that the wait time for the latter two DNA products is closer to a year and a half to two years for delivery. However, you may want to consult with Donald North directly to learn more. His DNA Website can be found on the Internet just by Googling Donald North Audio, and his phone number is on this Website.

    Earlier...

    June 2022:

    I spoke with Donald North (owner of Donald North Audio) yesterday, to see if my DNA Starlett was still on schedule to be delivered in November of 2022. Unfortunately, Donald said that the delivery will likely be pushed back by at least a few months - going into early 2023.

    He spoke of *parts delays and other obstacles (many of which are directly attributed to the Covid 19 debacle) which are responsible for this delay.

    * As a bit of trivia for DNA enthusiasts, during our conversation, I did learn that there are presently 38 DNA Starletts which have been manufactured since 2019, with at least 22 more presently on order. It is clearly a popular headphone amplifier that offers tremendous value for its price.

    So if you are interested in purchasing a DNA Starlett (or a DNA Stratus or Stellaris), you may want to consider getting on Donald's waiting list as soon as possible.

    Based on my experience using a Starlett prototype for a month back in 2021, I think that this is a terrific headphone amplifier. Moreover, my intent is to keep the Starlett for a long time and eventually pass it on down to another Family member.

    So, even if I have to wait a year or more, I am willing to do so for a product that is not only unique, but also, superlative in every way that an audio component can be.

    Earlier...

    DNA headphone amplifiers are boutique products that are built in limited quantities by Donald North, of DNA Audio.

    From what I've read, there are actually four different DNA headphone amplifiers that have been built over the years. Around 2009, Donald North started manufacturing his first headphone amplifier - the DNA Sonett. This headphone amplifier was met with critical acclaim and sold well. From what I gather, less than 100 were sold in various configurations over the course of a few years.

    The DNA Stratus came under development during the time that the Sonett was produced, and from what I have read, has remained in production for over a decade. Donald has sold more Stratus headphone amplifiers than any of his other models. I believe that around 100 Stratus amplifiers have been built in the past decade, in four different versions. The latest Stratus (version 4) is quite a bit more expensive than the earlier versions, due to its more expensive transformers.

    Around 2012, the Sonett 2 was created to replace the original Sonett. However, to my knowledge it did not not sell well due to the Stratus's popularity. As a result, less than 20 Sonett 2's were sold before it was discontinued, making it the rarest of all DNA headphone amplifiers.

    The DNA Stellaris is the crown jewel of Donald North Audio's headphone amp's. It can be customized in a number of ways which can drive the price well above $10,000. The Stellaris is considered by many headfi enthusiasts, to be one of the best headphone amplifiers in the world, regardless of price.

    It is also quite rare, with somewhere in the area of 30 existing in the present day.

    In my experience, DNA headphone amplifiers rarely come up for sale on the used market. When they do, they are sold almost immediately at close to their original selling price.

    The Starlett is the latest headphone amplifier offered by Donald North, and it has been created to replace the Sonett 2; yet to significantly improve upon its performance.

    Having demonstrated a DNA Starlett prototype for a full month in early 2021, I have to say that this is a very special headphone amplifier. In particular, I really like the way the Starlett sounded with my high impedance dynamic headphones (Sennheiser HD 600, HD 6XX and AKG K240 Sextett). In fact, I enjoyed the Starlett so much that I put in an order for one.

    I was also pleased with how the Starlett performed with my inexpensive planar magnetic headphones (Hifiman HE4XX, Fostex T60, Fostex T50RP MK3), however, it was clearly designed to drive higher impedance dynamic headphones.

    The Starlett was first offered in 2019, and I believe that the first units were actually delivered to customers in the early part of 2020. I'm not sure exactly how many Starletts have been sold thus far. However, I do know that it has been well received, and that at present, Donald has taken orders to build several more Starletts during 2022.

    *A used Starlett recently surfaced for sale (serial #10) and it sold within a day for nearly full retail price.

    Earlier...

    January 2022 - I placed an order for a DNA Starlett today. A year ago I had in my possession, a DNA Starlett prototype headphone amplifier, that Donald North (owner of Donald North Audio) was kind enough to allow me to audition. I really enjoyed my time with the DNA Starlett. So much so, that I decided that I would eventually have Donald build one for me. Over the past year, Covid 19 and its variants have not only wrought havoc on people's health, but in fact, the infrastructure of our entire society; including American manufacturers.

    As such, DNA Audio is experiencing the same concerns that all audio electronic manufacturers are. Delays in obtaining parts for the equipment that they build. In spite of this, Donald is still building his headphone amplifiers; including the Starlett.

    The wait time has increased from about six months a year ago to about 10 months at the present time. Given the boutique nature of DNA products as well as the Covid 19 debacle, this wait time is to be expected. Moreover, having auditioned the DNA Starlett prototype for a full month, I am certain that this wonderful headphone amplifier will be worth the wait.

    So, now that I have finally ordered a Starlett, the wait begins...

    Earlier...

    I don't own a DNA Starlett. At least, not yet.

    However, I have been privileged to demo a DNA Starlett prototype for the past *month, yet, have not wanted to comment on it in any depth, until I had really tested it with some of my other components.

    * Now that I have completed my demo, the Starlett is being packed up and shipped off to another possible DNA customer; one who will be privileged to demo this fine headphone amplifier in the coming days.

    I'd also like to thank Donald North for allowing me the opportunity to demo his Starlett.

    I find Donald to be as impressive as the headphone amplifiers that he manufactures. He is humble, yet at the same time, understands that his products are truly outstanding within their respective price categories.

    Donald is also trusting. The Starlett is a $2,000 headphone amplifier, yet his only request is that I pay to ship it back to him when he contacts me. I have had the Starlett for more than three weeks now and have spent several hours - practically everyday - listening to it.

    How is that for a test drive?!

    Moreover, I own many different headphone amplifiers, all of which do what I consider to be the most important thing for any audio product to do - faithfully honor the music. This is why I own them.

    The second point of importance for this enthusiast is that these products must be both reliable and affordable - the primary reason that I spend so much time researching a product before I purchase it, and why whenever possible, I purchase such components used.

    As for faithfully honoring the music, there are many headphone amplifiers that do not meet this basic criterion - ranging from inexpensive, to moderately priced, to expensive. So when I find a headphone amplifier (or for that matter, any audio component) that does faithfully honor the music, I make note of it.

    This brings me again to the DNA Starlett. The Starlett is a TOTL (Top Of The Line) headphone amplifier that easily fulfills such criterion. Its build quality is above reproach, and its sound quality is both superlative and engaging.

    And did I forget to mention that it uses some very inexpensive (6DG6) output tubes that remain plentiful?

    Having owned a pair of *Quicksilver 8417 tube monoblocks decades ago, I soon learned how important it is when purchasing a tube amplifier, to ensure that one has access to tubes in the future. Otherwise one's amplifier becomes little more than a heavy paper weight.

    * I really liked the 8417. It was a very musical amplifier. However - it quite literally - ate its output tubes. In fact, I have never seen another amplifier burn through tubes the way that the 8417 did. Mike Sanders at Quicksilver Audio, realized this, and bought up all of the remaining stock of Phillips 8417 tubes that he could find. He did so, so that his customers would have access to these tubes when their originals wore out. However, within a few years, Mike had sold off all of the remaining Phillips 8417s, and was forced to use the GE 8417, which was not nearly as robust. They were soon gone as well.

    NOS matched quads of the Phillips 8417 quickly rose above the price of a pair of used QS 8417 monoblocks, which only further complicated matters.

    So this is why it is so important that careful consideration is given to the tube complement of an audio component prior to purchasing it. And just another reason why I like the DNA Starlett as much as I do.

    IMHO, while not inexpensive at $2,000, the Starlett is worth every cent (and then some), since Donald North has put a lot of time, thought and effort into the design of this wonderful product.

    Moreover, provided that it is properly maintained, the Starlett will give its owner many decades of enjoyment, and ultimately be passed on down to the next generation of that owner. What more can one ask of any audio component?

    Sonically, the Starlett does everything well. Donald designed it to. As such, the Starlett produces a solid bass and mid bass, a glorious midrange, and a clear and concise treble. The Starlett also adds just the right amount of depth and width to a soundstage, making it ideal for all types of performances.

    Donald North is an artist when it comes to voicing his amplifiers. The tonality of the Starlett is as good as any headphone amplifier I have heard, in nearly 50 years in this hobby.

    I have used it with my AKG K240 Sextett, Sennheiser HD600, HD6XX, Fostex T50RP MK3, Hifiman HE4XX, Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon, and NAD HP50 VISO. The Starlett powers each headphone with ease. I'll go as far as to say that this amplifier has gotten the most out of these headphones, relative to any previous headphone amplifier that I've owned.

    The Starlett produces both exemplary macro and micro dynamics. With this amplifier there's just more going on in the music. I hear certain subtle sounds that I have not heard with my other headphone amplifiers. During the time that I have used the Starlett, I have also taken some time away from it and gone back to some of my other headphone amplifiers, to ensure that my experience is not just the "placebo" or "new toy effect."

    It's not. The improvements that I have heard with the Starlett are real, and they are significant enough to warrant the additional expense of this headphone amplifier, over those which I have purchased in the past.

    As such, I have decided to purchase a new DNA Starlett in the future.

    What higher praise can you give a product, then to purchase it?


    Hagerman Technology Castanet/Hagerman Audio Labs HA10
    Availability - Used Only - Since only a handful of Hagerman Audio Labs Castanet/HA10 headphone amplifiers were ever manufactured by Jim Hagerman, finding one is like trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack.

    Update: September 2022 - Having now owned my Hagerman Audio Castanet headphone amplifier for nearly three years, I continue to marvel at the sound quality of this rare piece of gear. Its parafeed circuit is a clever design that allows the Castanet to be turned up to full volume without hearing any background noise. When the volume is turned up the sound is full and detailed - not distorted. Try doing this with your typical headphone amplifier and you'll hear nothing but distortion.

    The Castanet is no powerhouse, yet, it has more than enough power for most dynamic headphones, and does well with inexpensive planar magnetics like my Hifiman HE-4XX and Fostex T50RP MK3 and T60RP. In comparing it to the DNA Starlett prototype that I borrowed from Donald North for a month back in late 2021 (the best sounding headphone amplifier I have ever heard), I found that while the Starlett was better sonically on all fronts, the Castanet did not embarrass itself.

    Given that they would be about the same price in the present day (about $2000 accounting for inflation on the Castanet), I found the Castanet to be competitive with the Starlett, while being slightly outclassed in overall performance. Considering the outstanding performance of the Starlett and the tremendous engineering talent of Donald North, this speaks volumes about the excellence of the design of the 14 year old Castanet, as well as Jim Hagerman's talent as an electronic's designer. Especially since the Castanet was his foray into headphone amplifier design, at a time when dedicated headphone amplifiers were a rarity in the Hi-Fi hobby.

    Earlier...

    I have owned my Hagerman Audio Castanet for over two years now, and continue to be impressed with its sound quality and flexibility. My Castanet was actually owned by Jim Hagerman for 12 years before I purchased it, and was the first of a handful of Castanet's ever built by him.

    One of the most interesting aspects of the Castanet is that because it started out as a DIY kit, this parafeed design was very easy to customize with myriad different parts. As a result, no two Castanets are likely to be exactly the same. Moreover, Jim believes that if you design a superior circuit and then use good quality parts in the construction of the circuit, it will sound better than a lesser circuit built with more expensive parts.

    He also used better quality capacitors in my Castanet than what was originally called for in his DIY half kit. However, the stock transformers in this particular Castanet are excellent "off the shelf" components made by *Hammond.

    *Hammond builds very good "off the shelf" transformers, even if they are not quite at the level of those custom manufactured by companies such as Electra-Print, Magnequest, Audio Note, Edcor, or Lundahl. Moreover, Hammond's transformers are significantly less expensive than the aforementioned ones.

    Virtually all of the Castanets were built as either half kits or full kits. The HA10 (the same headphone amplifier as the Castanet, just manufactured under the Hagerman Audio Labs brand) was Jim Hagerman's first fully manufactured headphone amplifier. Like the version of the fully manufactured Castanet, the HA10 sold factory direct for $1500 in 2008 (about $1800 in present day value or $2600 with the requisite dealer markup). Because the Castanet and HA10 were only manufactured for a brief period of time, they are extremely rare, and almost never seen on the used market.

    Having started out offering the Castanet as only a partial kit, Jim eventually decided to manufacture complete Castanets through his company. As I stated earlier, the initial *Castanet (which I now own after having purchased it from Jim - essentially serial number one) is comprised of an all aluminum chassis, which houses a parafeed triode design based on the 6H30 Triode. It was manufactured under the Hagerman Technology name (HAGTECH) during the late 2000's, at a time when parafeed designs - such as those from Beezar Audio - had become more popular.

    *Jim would later open Hagerman Audio Labs (HAL) and change the name of the Castanet to the HA10, while offering a matching DA converter called the DA10. While the Castanet was initially produced as a half kit, both the HA10 and DA10 were produced only as fully manufactured components. They are also very rare.

    These units were produced in very limited numbers, so finding a Castanet/HA10 is kind of like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. Fortunately, Jim now manufactures another terrific headphone amplifier called the *Tuba, which continues to receive positive acclaim given its superb sound quality, build quality and 10 year transferable warranty.

    *More on the Hagerman Audio Labs Tuba can be found at the end of the Castanet/HA10 post

    Earlier...

    Of all of my headphone amplifiers, the Hagerman Castanet is - next to the DNA Starlett - my favorite. It's a unique "single-ended, zero-feedback, parafeed triode design" that allows for practically no distortion.

    *I'm waiting for my DNA Starlett to be built, with a due date of November of 2022. I demo'ed a prototype Starlett in 2021, and in my subjective opinion, it surpassed my Castanet in terms of overall sound quality. Given the fact that the Castanet would be about $2000 factory direct (the price of the DNA Starlett) if it were still being produced, I find its performance to be close to that of the Starlett. However, for this audio enthusiast, the Starlett does subjectively edge out the Castanet in overall performance.

    According to Jim, he designed the Castanet using the Sennheiser HD600 and Grado SR125, so that this headphone amplifier would be able to effectively run both high and low impedance headphones. For the same reason, Craig Uthus, the founder of Eddie Current, used the Grado RS-1 and HD600 when designing his first solid state headphone amplifier - The Eddie Current EC/SS.

    What amazes me most about the Castanet is that I can run it at full volume without hearing any distortion at all, while the chassis stays cool to the touch. This is true regardless of how many hours the Castanet is left on. This is a TOTL (Top Of The Line) headphone amplifier which does everything well. Its tonality, sound staging, layering of instruments and overall sense of space is as good as I have heard.

    Moreover, the Castanet's background is extremely quiet. In fact, aside from the DNA Starlett, this headphone amplifier has the nicest sounding midrange I have ever heard from a headphone amp, and its bass, midrange and treble are extremely well balanced. If I could only use one word to describe the Castanet, I'd use smooth.

    When used with one of my tone controls, the Castanet also easily powers every headphone I have, from my high impedance 600 ohm AKG K240 Sextett, and Sennheiser HD650 and HD600 (both 300 ohms), to lower impedance headphones like my Audioquest Nighthawk Carbons (25 ohms), Hifiman HE 4XX (35 ohms), and Fostex T50RP MK3 (50 ohms).

    The Castanet has been out of production for over a decade now. However, as I'd mentioned earlier, Jim recently designed an excellent new headphone amplifier called the Hagerman Audio Labs Tuba (that's based on the Castanet/HA10 circuit toplogy), which uses a pair of EL 84 tubes. As such, the Tuba works quite well with both *IEM's and planar magnetic headphones, as well as dynamic headphones. Given its build, sound quality, and a ten year transferable factory warranty, the Tuba represents an extraordinary value at a delivered price of only $749.

    *The Tuba is easily one of the best headphone amplifiers on the market to pair with IEM's (inner ear monitors), due to how quiet it is.

    Jim is unique to this industry in that he succeeds in creating new electronic circuits, that give his audio designs a significant advantage over his competition. I truly enjoy listening to music through my Hagerman Audio Labs Castanet.


    Mapletree Audio Octal Duo 300 SET (Formerly Called The Sugarmaple)
    Availability - New Through Mapletree Audio/Used - Scarce - Very Rarely Found On Ebay, Audiogon, US Audiomart and Canuck Audiomart


    *Update: September 2022- My Mapletree Audio Sugarmaple Octal Duo 300 SET arrived via the mail today. First impressions are as follows: It's in very nice condition and came extremely well packaged. The OD300 SET is well made, kind of neat looking, and a bit quirky. It does look like something that was made in someone's garage. However, someone who knew what they were doing.

    Listening thus far with a vintage pair of AKG K240 Sextett headphones, the OD300 SET has proven to be an ideal match with this difficult to drive 600 ohm dynamic transducer. And I am looking forward to trying the OD300 with my Sennheiser HD6XX and HD600 headphones as well.

    Another observation that I have made is that given its class A architecture, the OD300 SET runs hot - IMHO it should not be stacked atop its matching power supply. Instead, a short cable allows these two components to be used along side one another, rather than having to be stacked. This is how I will use them in the future.

    When I decide to purchase a piece of vintage headfi gear, I like to take my time researching the equipment in order to determine what it's worth on the used market. This is half the fun of finding some of these unpolished gems. Most of the gear I focus on is rare and thus not commonly found on the used market. So, I have to attempt to find enough pieces of a particular type of gear that has sold in the past, in order to have an idea of what it is worth. I do this because I don't want to shortchange a seller, however, at the same time, don't want to overpay for a piece of vintage gear either.

    No matter how nice a piece of vintage gear may seem, it is an older and in all likelihood well used component that is out of warranty. So if a problem occurs, it can very quickly become an expensive endeavor to have it repaired.

    This methodology was made more complicated than usual with the OD300 SET, because it is a rare piece of gear that hardly ever comes up for sale on the used market. My example is serial number 005, which was manufactured in 2016. And it is the only OD300 SET that I have ever seen on the used market. Over the past two years I have only been able to find one other - Sugarmaple, two chassis - headphone amplifier on the used market. And it was a Sugarmaple Octal Duo OTL (output transformer-less) version. This is almost identical to the Sugarmaple OD300 SET that I just purchased, except that its output stage does not have output transformers.

    I was surprised to find - given that these headphone amplifiers sold for close to $1000 US when new - that they do not sell for more on the used market. The OD OTL that I just missed out on purchasing in 2020 sold for $500 Canadian Dollars - about $385 US. With shipping the as delivered price was about $450. I paid about $580 for my OD300 SET in total. Given that the OD300 SET was about $30 more than the OD OTL version, this meant that I paid about $100 more than whoever purchased the OD OTL version.

    Personally, I think that both of these headphone amplifiers were underpriced on the used market. However, I cannot say by how much, because I am not sure. What I do know is that when accounting for inflation, my OD300 SET would cost about $1250 delivered in 2022, so I do think that $580 delivered is still a very good price. Even if this amp is approaching seven years of age and out of warranty.

    Earlier...

    I received an Email from the seller of the Mapletree Sugarmaple OD300 SET headphone amplifier which I purchased last week, that it's being shipped today. Hopefully, I should have it within the next week or so and can document my early experiences with the OD300 SET when it arrives.

    Earlier...

    After searching for a used one for the past few years, I recently purchased a used Mapletree Audio, Sugarmaple Octal Duo 300 SET headphone amplifier. Over the past decade, Dr. Lloyd Peppard (a retired electrical engineer) and the founder of Mapletree Audio, began a collaboration with another electrical engineer by the name of Dr. Alois Freundorfer. At first, both men were building different products offered by the company (Dr. Freundorfer was building the Sugarmaple Octal Duo OTL and Octal Duo 300 SET headphone amplifiers at the time, under the aforementioned Sugarmaple brand name, in addition to a few other products). More recently, according to Mapletree's Website, Dr. Freundorfer has now taken on the day to day responsibilities of running this company and building its products under the Mapletree brand. And it appears that some of the products that were being manufactured by Dr. Peppard are no longer being offered. Instead, just the products that Dr. Freundorfer has been manufacturing under the Sugarmaple brand, remain on the Mapletree Audio Website. However, they are now being built under the Mapletree Audio brand.

    Mapletree Audio manufactures boutique, custom made to order audio components. As such, if you want a new Mapletree Audio product, it must be custom built for you. I became familiar with this company several years ago, and attempted to purchase a Sugarmaple Octal Duo OTL headphone amplifier about a year ago. However, by the time I inquired about the Octal Duo, the amplifier had been sold.

    So, when I recently saw an Octal Duo 300 SET for sale that had only been on the market for a day, I made an offer, which was accepted. As such, I am presently waiting for this particular Sugarmaple Octal Duo 300 SET to be shipped to me. The Octal Duo 300 SET (SET stands for single ended triode) is a two piece affair, with one chassis containing the amplifier components, and the other, the power supply.

    I will post more on the OD300 SET once it arrives.


    Schiit Lokius Balanced 6 Band Graphic Equalizer - Schiit's Done It Again!
    Availability - New Through Schiit A Stock/ Used - B Stock At The Schiit Website & on Ebay, Audiogon, US Audiomart and US Canuckmart


    Update: September 2022: While I have not had much time to listen to my new Lokius, I have noticed that it has run fairly warm since I have had mine; hence the air vents on the top of its chassis. To my knowledge I have not seen any warnings from Schitt Audio about stacking other components (which would block these vents) on top of the Lokius.

    However, given that it does run fairly warm, I would think that blocking these vents might shorten the lifespan of some of the components used in the Lokius. So as a Lokius owner (or prospective owner), I would take the aforementioned concern into consideration.

    My Lokius showed up yesterday and I set it up to give it a brief listen. So far so good. I'll update my experiences with this neat piece of hi-fi gear when time allows. Wishing everyone in the United States an enjoyable Labor Day Weekend!

    Earlier.. I just purchased a B stock Lokius in silver for $289 plus sales tax and shipping. I was originally going to purchase one when they came out, but *decided to hold off, knowing that I would most likely eventually purchase a B stock unit. I'm looking forward to finally hearing a Lokius in my headfi system, having waited for nearly a year.

    *One reason for delaying my purchase of the Lokius was because I was also waiting for Schiit's top of the line graphic equalizer (the Loki Max) to debut; thinking that it would be about $700. As it turned out, in order to produce a high quality graphic equalizer that would offer state of the art performance, Schiit had to charge more than twice that much ($1499).

    Earlier...

    The Schiit Lokius debuted in late 2021. At the time I was debating whether or not to purchase one, since I'd already owned a Loki Mini. A short time later I also purchased a cheaply made, but effective, Behringer 9 band graphic equalizer which cost about $65 delivered.

    This has worked out quite well, since it has both single ended and balanced connections, and three more bands than the Lokius. So, I decided to hold off on the Lokius since Schiit had stated that a larger (Schiit LOKI Max) graphic equalizer would be offered in the near future.

    The LOKI Max did eventually arrive to great fanfare - and has since been very well received for its quality - but contrary to popular speculation, it did not contain a greater number of frequencies, but instead, better quality circuitry all around. It is as Jason and Mike from Schiit have said: "A Price no object all out assault on the graphic equalizer market!"

    The Loki Max has also turned out to be a lot more expensive than the Lokius, with a retail price of $1499 - which is out of my price range. So I will stick with the Lokius when finances allow.

    Earlier...

    There's a 2 to 4 week wait for receiving a new Schiit Lokius, so the reviews will start to trickle in slowly. A few of the people who have had access to the Lokius thus far, have had good things to say about it.

    I know that the LOKI Mini and Mini + are very popular, and I'm certain that with its balanced circuitry, the Lokius will be even more popular.

    I am going to purchase a Lokius for use with the fully balanced headphone amplifiers that I own. In particular, the Cavalli Liquid Platinum that I purchased at 50% off during the Monoprice 2020 Holiday Season. The basic system will be comprised of a brand new Amazon Fire HD10 Version 11 for streaming Internet audio and video content, Schiit Modius DAC, Schiit Lokius graphic equalizer, and the Cavalli Liquid Platinum - all used in balanced configuration.

    I will be using several different headphones with this system ranging from planars to dynamics, and I truly believe that it will define the law of diminishing returns in the head-fi hobby.

    What continues to amaze me - coming from some very expensive home audio equipment that I owned years ago - is how good sounding Schiit Audio's equipment is. And how it costs only a small fraction of what my older Hi End audio gear cost.

    As much as I am enjoying using my basic Schiit IEM head-fi system, I am really looking forward to the Autumn season and the cooler weather that it brings, to get back to using my full sized headphone system.

    Earlier...

    I remember Emailing Schiit about a year ago to inquire as to whether or not they had any intention of manufacturing an affordable balanced graphic equalizer.

    A member of the Schiit Audio staff replied very quickly and courteously; stating that while they could not discuss any particular product concept, many of the company's customers had asked about the possibility of obtaining such a device.

    I remember writing about what my idea of a larger, balanced version of the LOKI Mini should be. A six band unit with the same footprint as the Modius and Magnius. I even wondered at the time if they would call the new tone control a Lokius, and if they could actually bring the unit in at under $300.

    Well, as usual, Mike and Jason did not disappoint. While surfing their Website today (I usually do so at least three or four times a week), I noticed a new product was added right under the LOKI Mini + What was it called? The Schiit Lokius!

    The Lokius has six bands and offers both single ended and fully balanced inputs and outputs. The price? Just $299! And yes, I will be ordering one in the near future to use with with my Modius DAC.

    What I like most about Jason and Mike is that rather than spinning their wheels talking about products that never actually materialize, these guys quietly develop products that their customers want, at an affordable price. And then bring them to market in a very unassuming way.

    Is it any wonder why Schiit Audio has built such a loyal following over the years?

    Thanks Mike, Jason and all of the crew at Schiit Audio, for once again delivering a great product at an almost ridiculously low price!


    Little Dot MKII OTL
    Availability - Commonly Available As New Old Stock On E-bay/Also Available Used From Time To Time Via Internet Venues

    *Update: August 2022 - I have owned my Little Dot MKII for nearly five years now and continue to really enjoy it. Being around for nearly a decade and a half, this OTL headphone amplifier is an "oldie but a goodie."

    It's one of the neatest headphone amplifiers on the market. It made its debut during the mid 2000's and was produced through a third version. NOS units of the third version are still sold over the Internet, and quite commonly through Ebay.

    The Little Dot MKII is a push pull circuit, using a single ended pair of RCA inputs and a pair of RCA outputs, which also allows the MKII to be used as a preamplifier.

    This amplifier also allows for quite a bit of tube rolling through bridge pins, and two dip switches allow one to change the output impedance so that various headphones can be used.

    In this Hi-Fi enthusiast's experience, the Little Dot MKII only really excels with higher impedance headphones (as do all output transformerless amplifiers), and does particularly well with the Sennheiser HD 650, HD 600 and the ancient, but great sounding, AKG K240 Sextett from the 1970's.

    I paid about $140 for mine, and then upgraded the input tubes with a matched pair of NOS Mullard tubes for about $25 (which sound quite good) for a total investment of about $165 US.

    The Little Dot MKII has a huge following in the headphone community, given its performance to value ratio. There's a Little Dot MKII forum on the Headfi Website which discusses many different aspects of this great little headphone amplifier.


    Violectric HPA V100
    Availability - Used Only Via Internet Venues - Fairly Rare

    UPDATE: August 2022 - The Violectric HPA V-100 is built like a tank, sounds quite good and maintains a bit of a cult following, which is why it's difficult to find one on the used market.

    It also has more than enough power to effectively run all but the most inefficient headphones, giving its user quite a bit of flexibility in choosing the headphones they want to match the HPA V-100 with. Most of the newer line of Lake People gear, including Violectric, is very expensive (the Nimbus line starts at over $4000).

    However, on the used market much of their older gear (including the HPA V-100) is a bargain. In fact, some older Violectric and Lake People headphone amplifiers sell for under $400, when available.

    Earlier...

    I recently received a voltage converter, so for the first time in the six months since I purchased my Violectric HPA V100, I have finally been able to actually listen to it. First impressions are as follows: The sound of the V100 is clean and dynamic. There is an intimacy to this headphone amplifier that reminds me of my Hagerman Audio Castanet, Eddie Current EC/SS and Ray Samuels Audio Emmeline HR2. It's a bit on the dark side, but very involving to listen to. There are subtle details in the music that many headphone amplifiers either miss completely or just gloss over. The V100 focuses on these details and presents them in a very emotive way. I especially like the tone of the V100.

    Most mid level audio components simply reproduce a performance in a more generic way, while better (and often more expensive) components draw you into a performance. The V100 is in the latter category here.

    Earlier...

    I purchased my Violectric HPA V100 during the 2020 holiday season, only to find that when it arrived, it was set for 230 volts instead of 110. The seller did not list that the unit was 230 volts, even though he knew that it might be purchased by someone in North America, and the 230V fuse was soldered into place. Only after the V100 did not play music (even though the pilot light came on) did I surmise that it was probably a voltage incompatibility - which the seller eventually confirmed.

    The unit is in excellent cosmetic condition, so I am presuming that it will work properly with the voltage converter that I recently purchased.

    I will update my experiences with this classic headphone amplifier when the voltage converter arrives.

    As for first impressions. The Violectric HPA V100 is smaller than I thought it would be based on photos I have seen of the amplifier. It is also beautifully made, while offering plenty of functionality. My V100 also has a Violectric internal dac installed. This V100 cost $400 delivered. New price was about $1000 with the dac option in 2010 US Dollars; about $1250 in the present day.


    Eufonika H4 OTL
    Availability - E-bay New Purchase Only

    *Update: August 2022 -
    It's been a few years since purchasing my Eufonika H4 OTL tube headphone amplifier, and I consider it to be a great bargain in the headfi hobby. Today, Eufonika offers a lot more offerings than the few that they had when I purchased my H-4, and they will basically custom build any amplifier to order. It truly is an impressive company. Especially when one considers the performance to value ratio of its audio components.

    Eufonika Audio is based in Poland. Considering that it sells its products by word of mouth only, the company is starting to get a lot more attention. This is especially true in regard to those headfi enthusiasts who appreciate quality components that offer tremendous value. Eufonika builds many audio products that are custom made to order. Prices range from under $400 to well over $1000 for one of their audio components, and each of these products is very reasonably priced based on what it offers.

    This is an excellent company that should continue to grow in popularity as more people in the headfi hobby become familiar with it.

    Earlier...

    I have had my Eufonika Audio H4 for the past two years and continue to be impressed by this output transformerless headphone amplifier. After a few years in business, this Polish audio company is gradually making inroads into the headfi community simply by word of mouth, because the company builds excellent headphone amplifiers that cost a fraction of the competition. I have been using my Eufonika H4 for two years now and continue to really appreciate what a fine headphone amplifier the H4 is. It is the perfect match for higher impedance headphones, and synergizes beautifully with staples in the headphone hobby like the Sennheiser HD650, HD600 and HD6XX.

    The fact that Eufonika sells their products by word of mouth - rather than advertising them - and does not rely on a retail dealer network, means that its products can be sold at a very competitive price. And this has not gone unnoticed by more and more headfi hobbiests looking for an excellent headphone amplifier at a bargain price.

    IMHO, there is no better value in OTL tube headphone amplifiers than the Eufonika H4, H5 and H7. They truly represent tremendous bargains in a hobby that is overcrowded with overpriced and marginal gear.

    Earlier: I've been using the Eufonika H4 for the past few weeks and have come to appreciate it more and more. The H4 really is well constructed and very aesthetically pleasing.

    As for its sound, the H4 is typical of a well designed OTL headphone amplifier in that it adds little to the sound of the music, apart from a slight warmth from the tubes. Both lows and highs are slightly rolled off, while the midrange is full, clean, dynamic and non fatiguing.

    As such, the H4 is a very involving headphone amp to listen to for hours on end. That is provided it's matched with a good high impedance headphone like the Sennheiser HD600 or HD650. I have used both with the H4 and find them to be an excellent match. The same can be said for my AKG K240 Sextetts, which at 600 ohms are a difficult load to drive. Yet, the H4 handles them easily with plenty of headroom to spare.

    However, and as I stated in an earlier part of this post, in my experience the H4 does not offer the same sonic benefits with *lower impedance headphones which require more current than the 300 milliwatts of power that the H4 produces.

    *Also, forget about using it with planar magnetic headphones, since they require far more current than the H4 produces. So please keep this in mind if you are considering the purchase of a Eufonika H4, since it produces a large amount of voltage, yet a minimal amount of current. And of course, lower and mid impedance headphones require more current than they do voltage, while high impedance headphones require more voltage than current.

    Thus the recommendation of using a higher impedance headphone with the H4.

    I also believe that the H4 offers excellent value at its roughly $400 asking price (currency exchange rates etc.), and that this company continues to offer the type of price to performance ratio that Feliks Audio (another Polish audio manufacturer) once offered. That is, before Feliks established an international distribution, where its prices increased nearly four fold, in order to accommodate the dealer markups necessary to maintain the company's profitability.


    Earlier...

    The Eufonika has finally arrived at my home a full 7 weeks and a day after I ordered it. Unfortunately, the H4 spent most of the past 7 weeks in U.S. Customs. Since in the past I have had international packages pass through U.S. Customs in under 24 hours, I have no idea why the H4 was held up for so long, unless it was due to increased traffic through this system during the holiday season.

    There was initial tracking information on the H4 prior to it leaving Poland. However, from the time it left Poland (11/25/2019) until the actual arrival time that USPS updated to (1/3/2020)- three weeks after the package's 12/09/2019 original delivery date - there was virtually no information on the H4.

    This almost complete lack of tracking information makes one wonder why a tracking number is even used in this particular instance, since while the package's location is unknown, the seller as well as the customer are left to wonder whatever became of the package. Especially when the package does not arrive until weeks after it should have.

    I am just glad that the H4 has finally arrived.

    First impressions are as follows: If the H4 was sold in the United States by a boutique audio company, it would probably cost between $750 and $1000, after dealer markup.

    At $400, this headphone amplifier is a steal. It is built beautifully, has a hefty feel to it, and it's finished like a very nice piece of furniture. The real wood trim is a light color and really looks nice in contrast to the black surface of the H4. The H4 is also quite large for a headphone amplifier. It looks somewhat like a Bottlehead Crack OTL headphone amp, except that the chassis on the Eufonika is wider, lower, and more nicely finished.

    The H4 is a fully class A bias, output transformer-less headphone amplifier, which means that the H4 is designed to work with higher impedance headphones like the Sennheiser HD650 (Massdrop HD6XX) and HD600.

    Unlike lower impedance headphones which need lots of current to drive them (especially planar magnetic headphones), the HD650 and HD600 need lots of voltage to drive them.

    Personally, I would not recommend using the H4 with lower impedance headphones, since this is not what it was designed for. I also think that in regular use, attempting to drive lower impedance headphones (especially planar magnetics) could damage this headphone amplifier.

    Please keep in mind that this is just my opinion, and that any questions regarding Eufonika products should be directed towards Wieslaw, the owner of this company.

    If you are from the United States, Google Eufonika to find the company's Website, and then use the English translator to translate the Webpage into English.

    I also like the fact that Wieslaw has incorporated a delay switch into the H4's circuit topology, in order to avoid any electrical spikes that might damage a pair of headphones during the H4's warm up.

    When the H4 is turned on, a red LED lights for about 30 seconds, before the LED turns green, indicating that the H4 is now ready for use.

    I have also noticed that while earlier H4 headphone amplifiers did not include a preamp output, Wieslaw has added a pair of preamplifier outputs on the back of my H4, so that it can be used as both a headphone amplifier and preamplifier.

    I would imagine that they are probably now standard on all Eufonika headphone amplifiers.

    Thus far, I am very pleased with the Eufonika H4 and look forward to updating my experiences with it in the future. It is only the second *OTL headphone amplifier I have ever owned. The first is the Little Dot MK2.

    Moreover, having replaced the input driver tubes with a NOS pair of Mullards, the Little Dot MK2 may well be the value champ (I only paid $140 for it delivered) of OTL headphone amplifiers; especially when given the tube rolling capabilities of the MK2.

    *The first time I had ever heard an OTL amplifier was through an old 50 WPC Futterman H3 from the 1950s, which sounded very nice with a pair of 15 Ohm Rogers LS3/5A's that I was using at the time. I'd purchased the H3 specifically for use with the LS3/5A's because of the synergy between the two.

    Earlier:

    It's been over a month now and I'm still awaiting delivery of my H4 OTL headphone amplifier which has been shipped from the manufacturer; a small Polish company called Eufonika.

    This is through no fault of the manufacturer. It was quickly shipped by them, however, my Eufonika H4 has been sitting in U.S. Customs for weeks now waiting to be passed on to USPS. Rumor has it that during the holiday season packages are just left sitting in customs, and that even U.S. customs' employees are very frustrated at the unnecessary backlog of packages, which they are told to let sit for a time before they process them.

    As an audio company, Eufonika, is fast building a reputation for quality electronics offered an affordable price. I will write an update on the H4 when I receive it.

    Another Polish company called Feliks Audio began building headphone amplifiers about a decade ago and quickly took the headphone community by storm, given the quality of these products and their low cost.

    Feliks has since developed an international sales network, so the prices of its headphone amplifiers have gone up considerably now that they must be sold with the requisite dealer markup. They're still a good value relative to their competition, but not the absolute steal they once were. Those considering Feliks headphone amplifiers, may also want to take a look at Eufonika, given the company's use of quality components and direct sales; the Eufonika headphone amplifiers are still in the "steal" category. At least for the moment!


    Schiit Modius DAC
    Availability - New Through Schiit A Stock and B Stock/Used - Becoming More Common On Ebay


    *Update: August 2022 - Recently Schiit updated its Modius digital to audio converter to the Modius E. The primary reason for doing so was because the AKM 4493 chip used in the original Modius was no longer available. Opinions vary on whether or not the Modius E sounds better than the original Modius, even if the objective performance of the E version is said to be better. At least one Modius owner who had been able to compare the two versions said that they liked it a bit better. However, for what it's worth, they did not feel that there was enough of a difference sonically to sell the Modius and replace it with a Modius E.

    Earlier... Closing in on nearly two years of ownership with my Schiit Modius, my initial impressions remain the same. The Modius is a fantastic digital to analogue converter for the money, that works well with every source, headphone amplifier and headphone that I have used it with. It also sounds great in both single ended as well as balanced mode. For this reason, I use the Modius along with an Amazon Fire HD8+ ( the HD8+ as a source) as a daily driver, along with a Behringer MiniFBQ800 nine band graphic equalizer (another really good affordable piece of gear), while rotating a number of headphone amplifiers in and out of this headfi system from week to week.

    Earlier:

    I've had my Schiit Modius for over a year now and I truly believe that it is not only an excellent dac for the money, but perhaps the best value in a delta sigma dac on the market at the present time. Schiit Audio really hit it out of the park with this affordable product.

    The Modius has become my "daily driver" dac, hooked up in singled ended mode to my Schiit Asgard 3, and in balanced configuration to my Schiit Jotunheim V1.

    The Modius works quite well with both headphone amplifiers, and is run to them via a Behringer MiniFBQ800 9 band graphic equalizer, which at $64 delivered, has turned out to be another excellent value.

    These components synergize very well with each of my headphones, when served by the USB-C output of an Amazon Fire HD 8+ tablet.

    Earlier..

    I've been using my Schiit Modius for nearly a year now and continue to be very impressed with the quality of performance this DAC is capable of. Especially at its $199 retail price.

    The Modius' sound is organic. It errs only by omission. It can be listened to for hours on end without fatigue. It has been reliable under daily use. It runs cool, which is great during the hot summer months.

    I stated early on that I believe that the Modius is one of those rare products that sets the bar in regard to the concept of the law of diminishing returns in this head-fi hobby. And, I continue to believe this many months into ownership.

    Mike and Jason have built a fine product in the Modius. And they should take great satisfaction in having done so.

    Earlier: I had been wondering if Amazon Fire HD10 could be synchronized with the new Schiit Modius, so I ordered a micro usb - micro usb cable which arrived in the mail today.

    It did work fine, making the Fire HD10 one the least expensive music servers on the face of the planet, whose USB output can be interfaced with a dedicated digital to analogue converter.

    And surprisingly enough, it sounds quite good!

    For $86.65 for the Fire HD10 version 9 (Amazon Prime Annual 48 hour sale) - including free shipping and sale tax - it makes one question the logic in spending thousands of dollars for a fancy music server. I know that many of these expensive servers offer more functionality than a small tablet, however, do they really sound that much better?

    I have been using a Fire HD 10 as music server for quite awhile now, via its headphone output. However, I was curious to know if using it with an outboard DAC would be a significant improvement over the headphone output.

    I would have to say that the DAC in the HD10 is average at best, and that the Schiit Modius is clearly better than the HD10 in every way. It is quieter and sound stages better. Macro and micro dynamics are better and there's more separation between the instruments. Even voices sound more realistic. There's also a greater sense of control and dynamics to the music which was absent through the headphone output of the HD10.

    Is it a dramatic improvement? No. Yet, the difference is clearly noticeable. Especially the longer you listen. The Modius is great value for the money.

    What I find of considerable interest here is that I have not been able to locate a single person who has interfaced an Amazon Fire tablet (or for that matter any tablet) with an outboard DAC. Even when I Emailed Schiit Audio (who were quick to respond) to inquire as to whether my *Fire HD10 could be interfaced with the Modius, I was told that it was possible, but that no one (presuming that he meant the company) had ever tried it.

    So, I figured it would be a good idea to post this here for anyone who has a tablet, and been thinking about using it with an outboard DAC. It would seem that any micro usb to micro usb cable should work (or a USB C to a micro USB cable for the latest versions of the Amazon Fire HD10 and HD8, which now use a USB C port instead of the earlier micro USB found on the older versions of these tablets). I am using a cable from a company called Cerrxian, which I purchased on Amazon for under $10 - it sounds good.

    Earlier...

    Update: Today I received my B stock Modius. First impressions are as follows: Well built, nice aesthetic (especially when paired with the Asgard 3 or Magnius), sensibly sized.

    As for sound, I would say that thus far the Modius sounds more open than the *Modi 2 Uber. Subtle, yet, better sound staging, more detail in the upper, mid and lower range. More air in the mid and upper treble region, and overall a greater sense of space between instruments. It is also more critical of source material than the Modi 2 Uber. The Modius will simply let you know how good or bad the material you're listening to is. With better quality material the Modius is quite good (a genuine bargain at its price).

    *I recently purchased a Schiit Audio EITR USB to S/PDIF bridge, to use in place of the USB input of my Schiit Modi 2 Uber, which has never worked properly. The USB ports of my Amazon Fire HD 10 and Fire 7 tablets connect to the USB input on the EITR. The EITR has a coaxial output that connects to the coaxial input of a DAC - in this case the coaxial input of my Modi 2 Uber or my Entech Number Cruncher 205.2 DAC.

    This upgrade has been a good one in that the sound of the Modi 2 Uber via the coax output of the EITR, has improved significantly over the sound of the Modi 2 Uber's own USB input. I would go as far as to say that the Modi 2 Uber now gives the Modius a run for its money sonically (both are outstanding DACs for the money {the EITR is an absolute must with the Modi 2 Uber}, and IMHO, represent the law of diminishing returns when it comes to DACS).

    I also like comparing the sonic differences between the discrete output stage of the Modi 2 Uber and the Op Amp output stage of the Modius. The EITR has now resulted in the Modi 2 Uber staying in my system indefinitely; being rotated with the Modius as well as two vintage DACS: An Audio By Van Alstine Insight multibit dac from 2008 and a Entech Number Cruncher 205.2 from 1998.


    As for the Schiit Audio Modius, I like it quite a bit when paired with the Asgard 3 and LOKI Mini graphic equalizer. I am also interested to see how the Modius pairs with several of my other headphone amplifiers, including my Loxjie P20. The P20 is the only fully balanced headphone amplifier that I own, so I will be interested to see how well it pairs with the Modius in balanced configuration. Especially how good this combination sounds with my Fostex T50 MK3 and HiFiman HE4XX.

    Earlier...

    Prior to 2017 when I purchased a Schiit Modi 2 Uber, I had not owned a separate DAC since the early 1990s. The Modi 2 Uber has been the only Schiit component that I feel was underwhelming in performance. The USB port in particular is very unreliable, even though performance through the optical and coaxial inputs is decent. Especially when the Modi 2 Uber has been left on for a few days.

    I decided that I would upgrade the Uber when I found a *delta sigma DAC that I felt was worth the money. It has taken me three years of waiting (and researching more DACs then I care to mention) to find one that - based on the law of diminishing returns - is actually worth the money.

    That DAC is the Schiit Modius.

    *As for multibit dacs, I think that the best value is the Schiit Modi Multibit. It has offered class leading performance since it was first marketed by Schiit Audio back in 2016, and continues to do so four years later, having only had a minor firmware update since that time.

    So this week I ordered a B stock Schiit Modius that I plan on using to replace my *Modi 2 Uber. I will update my experiences with the Modius when I receive it.

    *Since adding a Schiit EITR USB to S/PDIF bridge to my system, I find that the sound of the Modi 2 Uber has improved significantly enough to keep it in my system, rather than discarding it. I will instead, rotate it with some of the other dacs that I have.


    Entech Audio Number Cruncher 205.2 DAC
    Availability - Used Only - Can Be Found From Time To Time On Various Internet Venues, However, Not Commonly Available


    UPDATE: August 2022 - The Entech Number Cruncher 205.2 has shown me how important it is to do your due diligence before making a purchase in audio. To say that the 205.2 is physically unimpressive is not an understatement. Especially when compared to dac's that cost thousands of dollars.

    However, sonically, this little dac sounds surprisingly good. Moreover, given that it is approaching 25 years of age (and the myriad different dac chips manufactured over this time span that have come and gone), makes the 205.2 all the more impressive. There are some hi-fi components that stand the test of time by aging better than their competition, and they are in the minority. The 205.2 is clearly one of such audio components.

    Consequently, if you find one on the used market in nice condition for under $150, I would highly recommend giving it a try.

    Earlier...

    Having owned the Entech Number Cruncher 205.2 for the past few years, I continue to be impressed with its performance. The 205.2 cost me about $75 delivered (it would sell for about $750 in the modern day) and I consider it to be one of the best values in the head-fi hobby.

    Earlier... Having owned an Entech Audio Number Cruncher 205.2 for the better part of a year, I continue to be impressed with this vintage DAC. It really has a very pleasant tone. It has none of the digital brightness that many other digital to analogue converters are known for, which makes it easy to listen to for hours on end. Used Number Cruncher 203.2 and 205.2 DAC's are not that easy to find, so if you do see one that's in nice shape for under $100, you might want to consider snapping it up.

    Earlier...

    A few months back I found a 1998 Entech Audio Number Cruncher 205.2 DAC for sale. It was groady looking, yet was said to be in proper working order. The seller was asking $175 - which given the physical appearance of this DAC - seemed overpriced. So, I offered $70, which was accepted. The item arrived for a total cost of around $76.

    Upon arrival, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Entech was in better physical condition than it appeared to be in the seller's Ebay photos. Someone had decided to paint the aluminum cover on this particular unit, which I will eventually remove with some washing soda and elbow grease.

    Aside from this, the DAC itself is in very nice condition. Parts quality is actually quite good, even if, aesthetically, the DAC itself looks like a miniature airplane hangar.

    The following is a technical description from the manufacturer: "Technical Description: The 205.2 starts with an input selector (Coax 1/Coax 2/Optical) and buffer stage, followed by a Crystal Semiconductor CS8412 input receiver. It also has a Data Locked light and Phase selector button. Conversion is performed by a Crystal CS4329 20-bit delta-sigma DAC, and a Burr-Brown OPA2134 op-amp for the output stage and analog low-pass filter. Topnotch components: 1% metal-film resistors and film caps are used throughout the signal paths. This DAC includes the in-line 115V/16V wall-wart transformer feeding onboard power supplies with a batch of independent voltage regulators--a total of six."

    As for its sound, I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least. I will update my experiences with the 205.2 in the near future.


    Schiit Audio Magni 3 Classic - The Headphone Amplifier That Started The Sub $100 Headphone Amp Craze!
    Availability - Used Only - Commonly Available On E-bay And Other Internet Venues

    Update: August 2022 - The Schiit Magni 3 is the first dedicated solid state headphone amplifier that I have ever owned, and only the second dedicated headphone amplifier that I had at the time of purchase back in 2017. I had already owned an Antique Sound Lab MG Head version 1 - dedicated tube headphone amplifier - which I purchased new in 2001. In those days there were few hi-end audio companies that offered affordable gear. This was before China flooded the US market with affordable, yet marginal headphone amplifiers and digital to analogue converters.

    Before it folded several years ago, Antique Sound Lab offered some excellent sounding Hi-Fi gear at affordable prices. Nowadays, Chinese audio gear is quite common, and much of it performs very well objectively. Subjectively, however, while some of this equipment is quite good, much of it sounds marginal at best.

    I own an original Schiit Magni 3, which is the headphone amplifier that started the affordable/quality headphone amplifier craze. The Magni 3 actually sounds good when paired with a quality source, dac and headphones. It is also made well and remains durable.

    While the Magni 3 has undergone a few iterations since its 2017 inception, it remains one of the best entry level headphone amplifiers on the market. I have several headphone amplifiers (mostly vintage models), yet I still enjoy my Magni 3 classic after nearly five years of ownership.

    I use mine in a Schiit mini stack which includes a *Modi 2 Uber, original LOKI Mini, and Schiit EITR USB S/PDIF bridge. This constitutes an affordable headfi system with a small footprint, which continues to offer enjoyable performance.

    * The Modi 2 Uber suffers from a poorly implemented USB input, however, I bypass it with a Schiit EITR USB - S/PDIF bridge. The EITR allows me to interface the Modi 2 Uber with my Amazon Fire tablets via its coaxial input. Both the objective as well as subjective performance of the Modi 2 Uber are improved substantially when used with the EITR. It was the difference between my selling the Modi 2 Uber and keeping it as one of the dac's that I rotate in my system throughout the year.

    Earlier...

    Over the past few years the original Schiit Magni 3 has been replaced by another all discrete Magni 3+ and a Magni 3 Heresy that offers an op amp output stage. Both are supposed to be good headphone amplifiers for the money. There was also another Magni 3 offering (whose name escapes me at the moment) which was well reviewed, however, discontinued by Schiit Audio after it failed to sell in high enough numbers.

    After nearly four years of use, I still find the original Schiit Magni 3 to be a great little headphone amplifier for the money. The original Schiit Magni 3 was the headphone amplifier that started the sub $100 quality headphone amp craze. Four years ago, when the Magni 3 debuted, it really had no competition at all when it came to purchasing a solid state, all discrete headphone amplifier. Two years later, the Magni 3 spawned several sub $100 competitors; most notably, the Monoprice Cavalli Liquid Spark, the Geshelli Labs Archel Pro 2 and 2.5, the JDS Labs Atom and the Loxjie P20 hybrid tube headphone amplifier.

    I own all but the Geshelli Labs amplifiers, and I can say that the ones I own are quite good for the money. In my estimate the performance they offer is equal to or better than that of headphone amplifiers of a decade ago, costing many times their price.

    Earlier...

    Headphone amplifier design has grown by leaps and bounds since the late 2000's. As such, it is now possible to purchase a sub $100 headphone amplifier that when paired with a comparable headphone, can offer end game performance for many Hi-Fi enthusiasts.

    Geshelli Labs latest headphone amplifiers start at under $150 and approach $200 for a balanced version. This company has become an up and comer in the headphone amplifier business after receiving some positive reviews, not the least of which is a recent excellent review by Amir at the Audio Science Review Website (Amir tested the Geshelli Labs Archel PRO 2, and found its performance to be quite impressive).

    As for the Magni 3, this headphone amplifier does everything well. And while it will power all of my headphones, it excels with my lower impedance headphones. Moreover, while it does not have quite as black a background as my JDS Labs Atom (the Magni 3 tends to be a tad warmer), its sound is full and well detailed.

    Those who claim that the Magni 3 has a bit of an edge or glare in its treble region are probably just overdriving this amplifier to the point where it's distorting. I say this since I have always found the Magni 3 to have a pleasant sounding treble unless I am overdriving this headphone amp. When playing it loudly, the Magni 3 can be easily overdriven with higher impedance headphones such as the Sennheiser HD600 and HD650, which is something to consider if you plan on purchasing a Magni 3 to drive a higher impedance headphone.

    Given that the Magni 3 is a current driven headphone amplifier, I've always found that it does much better with lower to mid impedance headphones, where it offers more than enough headroom to sound its best.

    I have found that the Magni 3 pairs quite well with my two entry level planar magnetic headphones: The Hifiman HE-4XX and the Fostex T50RP MK3. The Magni 3 with either of these headphones - combined with an excellent source and my Schiit LOKI Mini graphic equalizer - creates a system which for this Hi-Fi enthusiast, has reached the law of diminishing returns in this hobby. As such, there's little reason for me to spend more money, unless I want to obtain the slightest of margins in performance gains. And for this I would have to spend a lot more money.

    Moreover, after two years of ownership, the Magni 3 continues to operate flawlessly. And I still highly recommend it even though it's been replaced by two newer offerings: the *Magni 3 + and the *Magni Heresy. These products have been well received and continue in the tradition of the Magni 3.

    *Amir at Audio Science Review recently tested the Magni 3 + and Magni Heresy and liked both of them. However, he found that the Magni Heresy was by far the superior headphone amplifier objectively, which is why Amir gave his recommendation to the Magni Heresy.


    Schiit Jotunheim Version 1
    Availability - Rarely Available As New Old A Stock, B Stock, Or C Stock On The Schiit Clearance Website Page/Used - Fairly Common On Ebay & Other Internet Venues


    UPDATE: August 2022 - I have been using my Jotunheim 1 to run two pairs of open air headphones as a type of speaker system during this scorcher of a summer, and the setup has worked very well. The J1 is a really nice headphone amplifier for the money, with plenty of power for most headphones, and sounds good with both dynamic and planar magnetic headphones. Its five year factory warranty to the original owner is just an added bonus, and yet another reason why I like Schiit Audio as much as I do.

    Earlier..

    I have had my Schiit Jotunheim version 1 for several months now and continue to enjoy its flexibility.

    Moreover, there are times when I don't actually want to wear a pair of headphones, yet don't want to run my two channel speaker system either. Instead, since the Jotunheim has both a balanced and singled ended output, I use it to run two different pairs of headphones simultaneously (hanging them on the wall) for a quadrophonic-like sound. It's actually very enjoyable when playing "elevator music" during the day.

    Earlier..

    I have been using my Schiit Jotunheim version 1 for the past few months and have been really enjoying it. The Jotunheim easily runs every headphone and IEM I own. I really like its flexibility, which is why I use it along with my Schiit Modius and a Behringer se/balanced graphic equalizer, as part of my *"5 year gear daily driver" headphone system.

    *This is in reference to what I refer to as my "5 year gear" components, all of which have 5 year factory warranties. These include the following headphone amplifiers: Schiit Jotunheim 1, Schiit Asgard 2, Schiit Asgard 3, Monoprice Cavalli Liquid Platinum, and an Emotiva BASX A-100.

    I was wondering if the Jotunheim 2 was a significant improvement over the original amplifier. The hype train in this hobby is designed to motivate one to make new purchases of hifi equipment whether they need to or not.

    And the J2 has been seriously hyped, so I thought I would read up on listening impressions for the unit. Based on what I have read, the J2 is a subtle improvement over the original. However, it appears that it's not a drastic one by any means. So if you can find a B stock J1 for sale on Schiit's Website (they are available from time to time), at a significant discount (and with the requisite 5 year factory warranty) you may want to consider purchasing a J1 instead of a J2.

    Earlier...

    I recently picked up a B stock Schiit Jotunheim version 1 for $259 with a 5 year factory warranty ($399 normal retail price). First impressions are as follows: Typical solid quality build. Very nice sounding. Plenty of detail and decent sound staging. In fully balanced mode, lots of available power.

    I'll update my listening impressions in the near future.


    Meier Audio Corda Classic
    Availability - Used Only - Fairly Rare - Can Sometimes Be Found On EBay, Canuck Mart, US Audiomart, AudioGon & Headfi From Time To Time


    Update: August 2022 - I have thoroughly enjoyed using my Meier Audio Corda Classic over the past year. As a headphone amplifier, it does everything well. I especially like its crossfeed function which is amongst the best on the market. I only wish that Jan Meier had kept the Classic and Classic ff in production longer since they really offer excellent performance for the money. I also enjoy my Meier Corda Jazz ff, whose cross function feature - while less sophisticated than that of the Classic - still works quite well. If I had to state what I like best about these headphone amplifiers, I would have to say their tonality. They just sound right, while faithfully honoring the music.

    Earlier...

    Meier Audio products are designed in Germany by Jan Meier and manufactured in China. They are noted for their crossfeed circuitry, which is recognized as one of the better implemented crossfeed designs in both headphone amplifiers and digital to analogue converters.

    Excellent components are used throughout Meier Audio products, and the company has enjoyed a fine reputation world wide since its 2000 inception, as a direct result of this.

    Earlier...

    I've been using my Meier Audio Corda Classic for the past few months and really enjoy it.

    The crossfeed circuit on the Classic is more sophisticated than the one on the *Corda Jazz ff, however, both amplifiers do IMHO, have a house sound to them. They are detailed, yet somewhat relaxed, which from a purely subjective standpoint, allows for hours of listening enjoyment. The Classic, like the Jazz ff, also works well with both high and low impedance dynamic headphones. And also, inexpensive planar magnetic headphones like my Hifiman HE4XX, Fostex T50RP MK3 and Fostex T60RP.

    *The Corda Classic was also available in an ff version before the unit was discontinued by Meier Audio.

    Both the Classic and Jazz ff are excellent all rounders in the headfi hobby, and can be had on the used market for a very reasonable price. That is when you can find them, since they are fairly rare on the used market, and Meier Audio no longer manufactures the Classic.

    Earlier...

    I received my Meier Corda Classic yesterday. Nearly 12,000 miles from Australia to the United States in less than two weeks is not bad at all. I say this in light of the holiday season (where the post office is more crowded than usual), but also the new Covid world we are living in. The seller was a pleasure to deal with and quickly shipped the Classic after receiving payment. I did a quick check of the headphone amplifier when it arrived (a quick covid 19 cleaning), changed the voltage from 230v to 120v by flipping a small switch on the bottom of the Classic (why can't all audio companies have this feature?), and put my Classic into service. Even cold it sounds quite nice. Over the next week I will be giving it more of a listen with some of my other vintage head-fi gear, and will document my experiences after that.

    Earlier...

    I recently purchased an original Meier Audio Corda Classic headphone amplifier for about $260US including shipping and Paypal fees (factoring in for inflation, the Corda Classic would sell for about $900 in the present day). The Classic is the headphone amplifier that directly followed the Meier Audio Corda Concerto. The Classic is basically a significant improvement over the Concerto, which was already a fine headphone amplifier; one that represented excellent value. Given its crossfeed function, the Classic is a fascinating piece of headfi gear which enables its user to adjust the soundstage of most recordings. It was available new from Meier Audio up until a few years ago, however, has since been discontinued. I should receive it in a few weeks and will update my experiences with the Classic once it arrives.


    iFi Zen Dac Signature/iFi Zen Can Signature 6XX/Sennheiser HD6XX
    Availability - New Through iFi Audio/Used- Fairly Common On Ebay & Other Internet Venues


    Update August 2022 - I've owned an iFi Zen Can Signature 6XX and Zen Dac Signature V1 for several months now and find them to be an excellent combination, offering a synergy with my Sennheiser HD 6XX that is palpable. Over the past year, iFi has replaced the original Zen Dac Signature with a newer version that offers some technical advantages over the original. Those who have heard both have differing opinions. Some believe that the V2 version is better sounding than the V1 version, while others find the original version to be the superior of the two.

    The second version is objectively better based on lab testing. However, the varying opinions in regard to which version of this dac sounds better remain purely subjective.

    iFi has also added two additional versions of its Zen Can Signature headphone amplifier to its lineup: the Zen Can Signature HFM for certain Hifiman headphones, as well as a Zen Can Signature for the Meze 99 headphone. I have not heard either of these products. However, if they work as well with the aforementioned headphones as the Zen Can Signature HD6XX works with the Sennheiser HD6XX, then they should be a welcomed addition to anyone with entry level Hifiman headphones or the Meze 99.

    Earlier...

    Even though I own a few different pieces of Drop.com (formerly Massdrop) Hifi gear, they have all been purchased used. This includes my iFi Zen Can Signature 6XX, Zen Dac Signature V1, and Sennheiser HD6XX headphones. What I like most about this combo is that it was designed to work as a well balanced component headfi system.

    And IMHO, Drop.com has achieved their goal exceedingly well.

    When used with a good quality streaming device (I use the usb outputs of some Amazon Fire tablets), this headfi system sounds quite good with all different genres of music, and truly excels with high quality files. My total expenditure on this system minus the source was about $570 delivered. And I cannot think of too many headfi systems that can approach this level of performance for such little money. Keep in mind that if this gear had been purchased new from Drop.com it would have cost several hundred dollars more.

    Thus far, I am truly enjoying this system. And I also like the fact that the Zen Can Signature 6XX also utilizes the equivalent of a tone control, which can be used to fine tune the Sennheiser HD6XX headphones.


    Schiit Asgard 3


    Availability - New Through Schiit Main Audio Website & Clearance B Stock Page/Used Through E-bay And Other Internet Venues

    Update: August 2022 - My Schiit Asgard 3 continues to offer great performance for the money. While it really runs too hot for the summer months (usually class A up to 500mw), I do enjoy using it during the cooler months of the year. Now that the summer is winding down, I do plan on putting the A3 back into part time service during the Autumn months.

    Schiit Audio continues to deal with parts' shortages, yet, Jason and Mike use their problem solving skills to circumvent these problems by finding creative solutions to them. Recent additions to the Schiit lineup include the Folkvangr 10 tube OTL headphone amplifier, which has met with critical acclaim. What it is truly unique about the Folkvangr is that it is both output transformer-less as well as capacitor-less in its output stage. To my knowledge, this is a first in the audio industry. The *Folkvangr is a limited edition product (about 250 units), about half of which have already been sold (according to a poster on head-fi). There's also an updated version of the Freya preamplifier which now allows for tube, solid state or passive use. No idea if the URD CD transport will make its debut in 2022, or if Schiit will wait until 2023 to introduce it (that is if parts availability allows for the URD to go into full production at all - time will tell).

    * I'd really like to have a **Folkvangr in addition to a DNA Starlett, but have already invested in a DNA Starlett headphone amplifier, which I have wanted for the past few years. So the Folkvangr will have to wait. I put in an order for a Starlett in early January of 2022 with an original due date of November of 2022. According to Donald North, owner of DNA Audio, this due date has now been pushed back by at least a few months to early 2023, making the wait time for a DNA Starlett at least a year now. Hopefully the wait will not be much longer than this.

    **I have been reading some reviews on the Folkvangr and it has been very well received by the headphone community. What is interesting is how it compares to the DNA Starlett, which is nearly the same price. The Starlett costs $2000 plus shipping (no sales tax unless you live in California, where DNA is located). The Folkvangr is $1799 plus sales tax and shipping. So these two headphone amplifiers are just about the same price. A few people who have had access to both have stated that the Starlett and the Folkvangr are very close in performance and are clearly TOTL (top of the line) headphone amplifiers.

    For those who are interested in other DNA headphone amplifiers, the wait time for a DNA Stellaris or Stratus is now between 1.5 to 2 years. So for those who are interested in purchasing a DNA headphone amplifier, it would be wise to get on Donald's waiting list as soon as you can, since these headphone amplifiers are produced in very limited quantities and rarely come up on the used market.

    Earlier...

    It's February 2022 and I have owned my Schiit Asgard 3 for over a year now. My Asgard 3, Asgard 2 and Jotunheim 1 are regularly rotated as part of my headfi system, and I continue to consider all three of these headphone amplifiers to be some of the best values in the headfi hobby. Especially given their 5 year factory warranty.

    The Asgard 3 is now $50 more than it was a few months ago, however, IMHO it's still an excellent value at its $249 price.

    Earlier... It's Spring of 2021 and I continue to be impressed with the overall performance of the Schiit Asgard 3. Given its affordability, power and ability to run virtually all headphones, the Asgard continues to be an incredible value. IMHO, perhaps the best value in affordable headphone amplifiers.

    Earlier... Having owned the Asgard 3 for the past six months my impressions remain as they were earlier. This is a fantastic headphone amplifier for the money. Arguably, the best value in the headphone hobby.

    I read recently that Schiit has also come out with a new DAC which is placed between the Modi and the Bifrost. It's called the Schiit Modius ($199) and it has the same footprint as the Asgard 3. Unlike Schiit's Modi line of DACS, the Modius comes in a balanced configuration.

    The Modius was recently given a very positive review by Amir at the Audio Science Review Website.

    Matching the Asgard 3 with the Modius offers a great Amp/DAC combination for under $400!

    Earlier...

    After using the Asgard 3 for the past few weeks my earlier impressions remain the same. This is one heck of a headphone amplifier for the money.

    The A3 effectively runs every headphone I own, and it sounds good with all of them. It pairs especially well with my planar magnetic headphones (Hifiman HE4XX and Fostex T50RP MK3), as well as my Audioquest Nighthawk Carbons.

    Jason Stoddard has stated that he thinks that the Asgard 3 sounds more class A than its Asgard 2 predecessor. While I have never owned an A2, I do have a few class A bias headphone amplifiers, and the Asgard 3 sounds very similar to them (especially in the midrange). When you factor in the flexibility of the A3, its great sound and quality construction, $199 price and five year factory warranty, the Asgard 3 is an even more impressive value than the Magni 3 - which was already an exceptional value.

    If there's a better value in the sub $200 headphone amplifier market than the Schiit Asgard 3, I have yet to see it.

    Earlier...

    My Schiit Asgard 3 arrived this morning. Impressions thus far are as follows: Very nicely finished (how does Schitt build something this nice for under $200?). The Asgard 3 really has a nice heft to it and a solidity to its chassis that belies its price.

    Sonically, after about two hours, the sound of the Asgard 3 is the typical Schiit house sound; that is to say plenty of detail in the midrange, good bass and very nice treble. The treble is not what I would call sparkly on top, however, very clean. Overall, there's a nice black background of silence with the A3.

    The midrange is almost tube-like (which I personally really like). The chassis on the A3 runs warm, but nothing like the A2. However, the right half of the bottom of the A3 chassis does get very warm. Not fry-an-egg-on HOT - like the A2 - but very warm.

    Interestingly enough, the left bottom side of the A3's chassis only gets warm.

    IMHO, the Asgard 3 is a great amplifier for under $200 (heck, even $300 or $400); especially with Schiit's 5 year warranty. When I purchased my Magni 3 back in the Fall of 2017 I realized it was a great value. In my opinion, the A3 raises the bar here and is an even better value than the Magni 3.

    Make the 5 year warranty transferable and you just about have the perfect affordable headphone amplifier.

    Nicely done, Mike Moffat and Jason Stoddard!

    Earlier:

    After some great reviews I recently ordered a Schiit Asgard 3 which I am awaiting delivery of. This is only the second Schiit Audio headphone amplifier I have ordered, having purchased a Magni 3 two years ago.

    I'll update my experiences with the Asgard 3 after receiving it.


    Gustard H10
    Availability - Used Only - Can Be Found From Time To Time On Various Internet Venues, However, Not As Commonly Available As One Might Imagine


    Update* August 2022 - The Gustard H10 was an attempt by the Chinese to build a headphone amplifier that closely approximated the specifications of the Violectric HPA V200 headphone amplifier, only with a true dual mono circuit topology. Having never owned a V200, I really can't say if they achieved their goal or not.

    What I can say is that the Gustard H10 is a fine sounding headphone amplifier that is not only well made, but also, powerful enough to drive virtually any headphone. I also own a Violectric HPA V100 and find that while the V100 and H10 have a similar "Violectric house sound," the H10 sounds more detailed and better controlled.

    I must also say that a few years back when the H10 was still being manufactured, it was ridiculously underpriced at $399.00 (the comparable Violectric HPA V200 sold new for over a $1000 at the time); given both its build quality and excellent objective and subjective performance.

    Considering that the H10 was manufactured in China and how much electronic equipment China exports to the United States, one would think that the H10 would be commonplace in America. However, it appears that China did not sell a lot of Gustard H10's in the USA, and therefore, they remain somewhat rare.

    Moreover, given that they were inexpensive, a number of owners modified their Gustard H10's with aftermarket opamps, some of which were not properly * voltage matched. This resulted in opamps catching fire and damaging the circuit boards in some H10's, making nice ones even rarer and more difficult to find.

    *The H10 puts out 16.5 volts, which is more power than many opamps can handle. This has led to several instances where certain aftermarket opamps (the Burson V5 comes to mind here) have not been able to handle the 16.5 volts in the H10, and actually burned up in the H10, permanently damaging its main circuit board.

    Over the past few years the Gustard H10 has since attracted a type of cult status. However, since they are no longer available new, H10's are getting harder to find on the used market. And even more difficult to find in excellent condition.

    Earlier...

    I have been using the H10 for the past few months now and have found it to be a very flexible headphone amplifier, in that it runs all different impedances of headphones well.

    In fact, over the past few days I have been listening to the H10 with the following headphones and find each to be an excellent match with the H10: Fostex T50RP MK3, Hifiman HE4XX, Sennheiser HD600, Sennheiser HD6XX, Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon, Meze Audio 73 Classics.

    I tend to put bargain Hi-Fi systems together as part of this hobby. Given this, I must say that the $250 - as delivered price - I paid for both the H10 and T50RP MK3, represents an incredible value relative to the price/performance of these components. I had read about the H10 pairing well with many different brands of planar magnetic headphones and now believe it, based on what I have heard with the combinations of the H10 and T50RP MK3, as well as the H10 and the Hifiman HE4XX.


    Earlier...


    After a few days of use I have found the Gustard H10 to be a very nice sounding headphone amplifier, with more than * enough power for virtually any headphone on the market. I have no doubt that it will even power the Hifiman HE6 and AKG K1000; even if there are better (yet far more expensive) choices of amplification for these notoriously difficult to drive headphones.

    *Gustard H10 output power: 570 mW (600 ohm load); 2200 mW (100 ohms); 2700 mW (50 ohms); 2000 mW (32 ohms); 1000 mW (16 ohms)

    I like the circuit design of the H10 very much. It builds on the Violectric V200's design, with independent power transformers for each channel (a true dual mono circuit). The H10's sound is typical of that of pure class A amplification, which is to say very smooth.

    As I said previously, my H10 runs cool to the touch, which leads me to believe that the Burson opamps are really not designed to work with the H10, hence the tremendous heat that they give off.

    Personally, I think that the H10 sounds quite good as it is, and don't see the need to risk doing damage to this headphone amplifier by changing its opamps. Especially since it appears that a stock H10 is reliable.

    I am still testing the H10 with different impedance headphones. Thus far, I have listened to it with the Fostex T50RP MK3 and the Hifiman HE4XX (35 and 50 ohms respectively) and it's a good match with both. I am interested in seeing how the H10 pairs with higher impedance headphones, including the Sennheiser HD600 and HD6XX (300 ohms) and in particular, the AKG K240 Sextett (600 ohm) - the primary reason that I purchased the H10.

    I'll update my experiences with the H10 and how it pairs with these headphones in the future.


    Earlier...

    I purchased a used Gustard H10 and recently took delivery of it. First impressions are as follows: It is well made, very nice sounding, and a bargain at its $399 USD price. I paid less than half of that for a stock, nearly mint H10. The H10 is said to be a clone of the Violectric HPA V200, only with improvements to the circuit that are alleged to actually make the H10 sound better than the HPA V200.

    I will update my experiences with the H10 in the near future. I'll also discuss the heating problem that some H10's using after market opamps experienced, which in some instances, destroyed the opamps themselves (as well as other components on the H10's PCB).


    Schiit Audio Asgard 2
    Availability - New Old Stock Only Occassionally Through Schiit Closeout & B Stock/Used - Fairly Common On Ebay & Other Internet Venues Such As AudioGon, US Audio Mart & Canuck Mart


    Update Summer 2022: With all of the headphone amplifiers that I have had access to over the past several years, I continue to find the Schiit Asgard 2 to be the best affordable headphone amplifier for inexpensive planar magnetic headphones. There's just a synergy working here - given the Asgard 2's Class A architecture and the design of these planar magnetic headphones - that is outstanding. The only problem with the A2 is the tremendous heat that it produces, which for this enthusiast, limits the time that I use the A2 to the Autumn, Winter and Spring months of the year.

    Earlier...

    February 2022 - As much as I like the Schiit Asgard 2, there is one caveat that anyone considering buying this headphone amplifier should consider before doing so. And that is the heat. The A2 is the hottest running headphone amplifier that I have ever owned. The only audio equipment that I have owned in the past that ran as hot were my Classe Audio DR-2 and DR-3 VHC pure Class A speaker amplifiers. These amplifiers were designed in the 1980's by David Reich of Classe Audio, hence the DR in their nomenclature. They sounded great, but ran extremely hot. As such, they were were overbuilt using the best quality components, in order to deal with their excessive heat.

    The DR-3 VHC in particular was a work of art, and employed the use of huge aluminum heat sinks to draw the heat away from the amplifier's circuitry, in much the way that the u shaped aluminum chassis on the Asgard 2 does. However, the Asgard 2 is built to a much lower price point, and under regular use its circuitry is most certainly not designed to take the abuse that the DR-2 and DR-3 VHC did.

    As such, I would be very cautious about purchasing a used Asgard 2, given that you have no way of knowing how many hours the amplifier has on it, or what headphones it was used to power. Moreover, many people with Asgard 2's seem to sell them about the time that their five year warranty expires. So please keep this in mind when purchasing a used Asgard 2.

    Earlier...

    After using my Schiit Asgard 2 with my Fostex T60RP, T50RP MK3, and Hifiman HE4XX headphones, I remain absolutely convinced that the A2 is one of the truly great bargains for running inexpensive planar magnetic headphones. This headphone amplifier synergizes so well with these headphones that it could easily be included in an endgame system for many headfi enthusiasts, who either don't have the financial means to spend thousands of dollars on a headfi system, or simply have no interest in doing so.

    *I have never enjoyed the A2 with my higher impedance headphones (Sennheiser HD6XX, HD600, AKG K240 Sextetts) because IMHO it simply did not synergize well with them. Perhaps one of the reasons the A2 works so well with the lower impedance headphones is because their impedance ranges from 35 to 50 ohms, and this is where the A2 makes most of its Class A 1 watt of power.

    Earlier... I was listening to my Fostex T60RP and Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon headphones through my Schiit Asgard 2 last night, and was truly and pleasantly surprised at how well the A2 synergizes with these headphones. Not only was there plenty of power to drive these headphones, there was also a clarity to the music that IMHO, only class A bias amplifiers can deliver.

    I was listening to some live performances involving several different types of instruments. One particular performance involved a duet with finger style guitarist Don Ross and his wife and music partner, Brooke Miller, using amplified guitars. The performance was palpable and the Asgard 2 did as good a job of capturing the sound of Brooke's lovely voice as it did both Brooke and Dons' incredible guitar playing. It was truly an enjoyable experience!

    Earlier...

    As of November of 2021 I have owned my *Schiit Asgard 2 for nearly a year. I continue to be impressed with this simple class A biased headphone amplifier, given how musical it is, and how well it synergizes with my inexpensive planar magnetic headphones.

    * Over the past year I've purchased two Asgard 2's on Schiit Audio's clearance Webpage. A black B stock unit for $119 and a silver C stock unit for $129. As of the present time (November 2021), only rarely does a B stock Asgard 2 show up for sale on the clearance Webpage. And when they do, they are quickly snapped up at the lowest price yet - $109!

    I really like the Asgard 3 given its flexibility and musicality. It was a steal at its original $199 price, and remains a bargain at its more recent price of $249. However, I actually prefer the sound of the Asgard 2 with my planar magnetics. I am using the A2 with my newly purchased Fostex T60RP headphones - in single ended mode - and find that the A2 really shines with the T60RP's as well as the T50RP MK3's and Hifiman HE4XX's. For just over $400, this is a great pairing that I highly recommend to those who want an excellent sounding Head-Fi system - without having to go broke in the process.

    Earlier... It's mid December of 2020 and Schiit is having a blowout sale on its remaining NOS Asgard 2's. There are only a handful left and the price has been lowered to $119 (A $130 discount over the original $249 price of the Asgard 2), which includes a full 5 year factory warranty. Given how well the Asgard 2 pairs with many planar magnetic headphones - as well as its build quality and long factory warranty - to say that $119 is a steal for the Asgard 2 is not an understatement.

    I just purchased a second A2 in black (the only remaining color) and there are only a handful left. I recently purchased a Schiit EITR USB - S/PDIF bridge from Schiit B stock (knowing how useful the EITR is with older quality DAC's that do not have a USB input). It appears that Schiit has now sold all of the NOS EITR's that it had left over in its inventory. The EITR has sold on Ebay for over $200 new, so the $89 price over at Schiit's Website has been a real bargain. If you want an Asgard 2, you should get one before they sell out.

    Earlier: My C stock Asgard 2 arrived today. For those who might be interested in knowing what a Schiit C stock component looks like: The unit is essentially brand new with the exception of a very small nick on the top cover (which is barely noticeable). Also, the *rubber feet were missing. IMHO, these are small caveats for a basically NOS A2 with a full 5 year factory warranty included, and for an as delivered price of just $159.90

    *I purchased some thick rubber feet which should suffice, while giving more clearance to the A2's chassis for better air circulation.

    I ran the A2 for a few hours and it really sounds quite good. It does run very hot though (especially on the right bottom side of the amplifier). My Asgard 3 also runs hot on the right bottom side of its chassis, however, the rest of the A3 runs a lot cooler than the A2. Even the knob on the A2 gets very warm.

    This probably won't cool the A2 down at all since it's designed to run hot. However, it will keep the table underneath the A2 from getting hot.

    Moreover, this is not an amplifier that I plan to run during the warmer months of the year. Instead, the A2 is perfect during the winter months since it doubles as a space heater.

    As for how the A2 sounds, after listening to it for a few hours with a pair of Fostex T50RP MK3's (50 ohms), I can understand why some A2 owners have said that they really like this headphone amplifier with their planar magnetics. The A2 has a very detailed midrange and it makes a full watt of power in the 32 - 50 ohm range; ideal for many different brands of planar magnetic headphones whose output impedance is in the aforementioned range.

    I am going to try the *A2 out with my HiFiman HE4XX (35 ohms) when I get a chance and will report back here. Thus far, it sounds very similar to the Asgard 3 I'm using, which is great.

    *The Asgard 2 also pairs quite well with the Hifiman HE4XX.


    Earlier:

    I had been considering the purchase of an Asgard 2 for quite sometime, however, it always seemed to get preempted by another headphone amplifier that I was interested in. Then Schiit replaced the venerable old Asgard 2 with the Asgard 3, which I (and many other Hi-Fi enthusiasts) quickly purchased.

    Suddenly, I could no longer purchase a brand new Asgard 2 with Schiit's terrific 5 year warranty, whenever I wanted to. Instead, I had to constantly check Schitt's B stock/Closeout page (where Schiit sells items at a discount) to see if an Asgard 2 was available.

    About a week ago some NOS Asgard 2's appeared for sale including one that was listed as C stock, which I subsequently purchased - thinking C was just an abbreviation for Closeout stock. (Schiit did not list C stock in the legend description which they include on this particular Webpage - Just B stock and Closeout stock.)

    As it turns out, I later learned that C stock is not an abbreviation for Closeout items (which are A stock - meaning perfect - that are no longer in production). Instead, C stock is actually a lower form of B stock, meaning that the C stock item has more imperfections than a B stock item has; hence its lower price.

    * I would like to respectfully ask Jason and Mike to please list a legend description of C stock items in the future, so that anyone visiting this Webpage does not confuse C stock items with Closeout stock items. This way any confusion about the status of the stock can be avoided.

    Hopefully, there won't be many imperfections on my C stock Asgard 2, since it was only $129 (almost 50% less than the cost of a brand new Asgard 2 prior to its being discontinued), and does have Schiit's five year factory warranty.

    I am still awaiting delivery of the C stock, Asgard 2 and will comment on it after I have gotten it. In particular, how many imperfections a C stock item has, as well as how the Asgard 2 compares sonically to my Asgard 3 (which I really think is a wonderful headphone amplifier).

    While I was on the Schiit Website purchasing my Asgard 2, I also noticed that Schiit has just launched its latest headphone amplifier, called the Magnius. The Magnius is a half case design like its companion Modius DAC. Both units have the same footprint as the Asgard 3 and Bifrost 2, however, they are half the height. The Magnius and Modius offer both single ended as well as balanced inputs and outputs, and their objective performance is said to be quite good for the money.

    The Magnius and Modius retail for $199 each, and can arguably be used to build an end game system for many headphone enthusiasts, since their technical performance is truly outstanding in their respective price ranges. Nice going Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat!


    Garage 1217 Project Starlight V1
    Availability - Available New From Garage 1217 Website And At Times E-bay/Rarely Available Used

    *UPDATE: Closing in on four years of owning my Garage1217 Project Starlight (version I) headphone amplifier, whose flexibility I have found to be very useful. The Starlight is a very cleverly designed hybrid headphone amplifier.

    What I like most about the Project Starlight is that not only can you roll many different *tubes with the Starlight, you can also roll different op amps. In fact, because of this, I can't think of another headphone amplifier that gives its user more flexibility than the Project Starlight. It is also the only Garage1217 headphone amplifier which allows you to roll op amps as well as tubes.

    And the Starlight sounds really good with headphones in the 32 to 50 ohm impedance range, which includes many planar magnetic headphones.

    *Recently, I began using an Electroharmonix 6H30 6 volt vacuum tube with my Project Starlight, and really think it's an ideal combination. The Starlight's midrange detail with this tube is sublime. I had never read of anyone using the 6H30 with the Starlight, so I E-mailed Jeremy Helms at Garage1217 and he said it would be fine to do so. Jeremy is the owner of this great little company and is always willing to offer helpful advice when it comes to fine tuning Garage1217 headphone amplifiers.

    I have a few headphone amplifiers that are an excellent match with my higher impedance headphones, however, they really are not suited for use with planar magnetic headphones. They simply don't have enough current to drive these headphones properly.

    This is where the Project Starlight (and some *other headphone amplifiers that I own) comes in.

    Fortunately, I also have a number of good quality, inexpensive, higher current headphone amplifiers *(Schiit Asgard 2, Schiit Asgard 3, Schiit Jotunheim 1, Schiit Magni 3, Loxjie P20, Cavalli Liquid Spark, Garage1217 Project Starlight, JDS Labs ATOM). These are ideal for driving the inexpensive planar magnetic headphones that I own (Hifiman HE4XX & Fostex T50RP MK3). These headphone amplifiers range in cost from under $100 to just under $400, yet perform well above their price point. I use a Schiit LOKI Mini graphic equalizer to tailor my headphones to the sound I prefer, which means that I don't have to physically modify these headphones to get the sound I want. It also means that I've reached the law of diminishing returns in this hobby, when the sound quality is so good, that it makes little to no sense to spend more money than I already have on headphone components.

    The Starlight is rated for use with headphones ranging from 16 ohms to 300 ohms. I have used it successfully with all of my headphones, which range from 25 ohms all the way up to 600 ohms. What I like most about the Starlight is its black background - it is nearly as quiet as my JDS Labs Atom - and its tremendous flexibility. This is not a lush sounding tube amplifier like Garage1217's Project Sunrise/Horizon, which both operate on a class A bias circuit.

    Instead, the Starlight is a very neutral sounding headphone amplifier that truly excels with high quality recordings. It simply amplifies whatever signal you send it. Feed it a poor signal and it sounds poor; feed it a good signal and it sounds good. It's as simple as that.

    And while I enjoy listening to my Sennheiser HD 6XX and HD 600 with my Project Starlight, because it produces more current than voltage, it does not have the same synergy with these headphones as it does with my Fostex T50RP MK3 and Hifiman HE-4XX. In particular, the midrange produced with these combinations is truly outstanding in this price range.

    The quality of the components used in the Project Starlight is first rate, as is the attention to detail in its factory assembly. Jeremy Helms, the owner of Garage1217, is clearly a perfectionist who loves what he does. And this shows in his products. The designer of these amplifiers, a man named Frans who hails from the Netherlands, donates of his time freely. I have read many posts by Frans on different Hi-Fi forums, and while being very low key, he is highly intelligent and a true asset to the Hi-Fi community.


    Emotiva BASX A-100
    Availability - Used Only - Sold New From 2017 - 2021, So Fairly Common Via Internet Venues

    Update: Emotiva finally came out with a replacement for its BasX A-100 flex integrated amplifier/headphone amplifier. For all intents and purposes, the new model - the BasX A2m - is a cosmetically updated A-100 with some subtle changes. It's nice to have the A-100 back, even if it's in a slightly different guise and costs about $100 more than the A-100 did. IMHO, the Basx A-100 was always underpriced by at least $100, so Emotiva is finally charging what it is worth.

    Earlier...

    Recently, I tried my A-100 with my Sennheiser HD6XX and HD600. They both synergize quite well with the A-100. Based on my listening experiences with a few of my headphones, thus far, the A-100 is an incredible bargain. It's unfortunate that Emotiva has chosen to discontinue it, however, they are available on the used market from time to time.

    Earlier... I have recently begun to use the BASX A-100 with my higher impedance headphones. I am presently using it with a vintage pair of AKG K240 Sextett's. I am amazed at the control that the A-100 has with these headphones. There is so much clean power that the A-100 drives them effortlessly, when most headphone amplifiers will struggle to get them to reasonable listening levels without distorting.

    I will be trying the A-100 with my Sennheiser HD6XX and HD600 in the near future and report on how they synergize with the A-100. Based on listening experiences thus far, the A-100 is an incredible bargain. It's unfortunate that Emotiva has chosen to discontinue it, however, they are available on the used market from time to time.

    Earlier...

    I finally got around to installing the jumpers on my BASX A 100, so that the headphone jack now has the same full power as the speaker outputs on this headphone amplifier.

    Wow! The A-100 puts out tons of power from 8 ohms on up to about 250 ohms. It even puts out plenty of power into 300 and 600 ohm loads. But where this headphone amplifier really shines is in the 32 - 50 ohm range where most planar magnetic headphones reside.

    Think of about 12 to 8.5 watts of power per channel into this range and you can understand why so many headphone enthusiasts with planar magnetic headphones own an A-100.

    I was using it briefly last evening with my Fostex T50RP MK3, and I have never seen the kind of control over the T50 that the A-100 has. It can drive the T50 to ear splitting levels without ever breaking a sweat. Resolution is excellent, as is sound staging, separation, and a host of other sonic characteristics, that make the A-100 the best value in headphone amplifiers that I can think of. The fact that it's also a speaker amplifier only enhances its usefulness.

    It is unfortunate that the Emotiva has chosen to discontinue the BASX A-100, however, they are still available on the used market. For those who are looking for an affordable headphone amplifier that will power the most difficult headphones, look no further.

    Earlier...

    I recently received my new Emotiva BASX A-100 headphone amplifier, and have been listening to it with both pairs of my IEM's. To my pleasant surprise, it is very quiet with these IEMS. This is without the jumpers installed, so the power is much lower than it would be with the jumpers installed.

    First impressions: The A-100 is very well made and quite nice sounding. Its packaging is first class, even including a nice cloth cover to store this amplifier in - emblazoned with the name Emotiva on it.

    The A-100 is ridiculously low priced at $229, especially when one considers that the A-100 is also an integrated amplifier. It should cost at least $100 to $150 more. At its $199 sale price, it's a steal, and highly recommended!

    From what I have read, Emotiva recently decided to end production of the A-100 after a very successful 4 year run (2017 - 2021). I cannot personally think of a better value in regard to headphone amplifiers, and I own some that are already benchmark products in their respective price ranges; including the Schiit Asgard 3, Loxjie P20, and JDS Labs ATOM.

    Earlier...

    I have been thinking about purchasing this headphone amplifier since it debuted back in the Spring of 2017. However, as was the case with the Schiit Asgard 2, the BASX A-100 kept getting pre-empted in favor of other headphone amplifiers.

    Now that the BASX A-100 is being discontinued - and offered at a $30 discount - I've decided to purchase one. Interestingly enough, a few hours after I placed my order for one, the Emotiva Website added a temporary out of stock warning in the checkout area. This leads me to believe that either stock is in very low supply, or the discounted price led to a buying frenzy that used up what inventory was left.

    While $30 may not sound like much of a savings, the A-100 was ridiculously underpriced to begin with at its regular $229 retail price.

    In any event, I just received an Email from Emotiva stating that my BASX A-100 has been shipped. So I will post some listening experiences regarding the A-100 when it arrives.

    Stay tuned...


    Monoprice Monolith Cavalli Audio Liquid Spark
    Availability - New On Monoprice Website/Also Commonly Available Used On E-bay And Other Internet Venues

    Update: August 2022 - I'm closing in on nearly five years of ownership with my Monoprice Cavalli Liquid Spark, and it continues to be a great little headphone amplifier for the money. IMHO, the Liquid Spark, along with the *Schiit Magni 3, Loxjie P20 and *JDS Labs Atom, continue to offer incredible headphone amplifier performance for under $100 (that is before sales tax and shipping).

    Anyone of these headphone amplifiers competes favorably against many headphone amplifiers costing significantly more ($300 - $500 range).

    *The Magni 3 is now offered in both Magni 3 + and Heresy versions, while the Atom is now offered in a Atom + version. Improvements are said to be subtle over the original versions of both of these products.

    What I like most about the Liquid Spark is that it has that relaxed Alex Cavalli tonality at a fraction of the price of other Monoprice Cavalli offerings - the Liquid Platinum and Liquid Gold headphone amplifiers.

    Earlier..

    It's been nearly four years since I bought my Cavalli Liquid Spark headphone amplifier as an open box unit. Since that time I have purchased quite a bit of headfi gear, including many other headphone amplifiers. Yet, I still really enjoy using the Liquid Spark because of its musical nature.

    Since I am between rotations on headphone amplifiers, I decided that I would get out my Liquid Spark to use with my Liquid Platinum, running the Spark single ended and the LP balanced via a Schiit Modius DAC and Behringer graphic equalizer. The LS is running to a pair of Hifiman HE4XX headphones, while the LP is powering a pair of Sennheiser HD600's in balanced configuration.

    This is the first time that I have ever run both the LS and LP simultaneously. *I'll update my findings later in the week.

    * As I suspected, the house sound between the Liquid Platinum and Liquid Spark is clearly evident, while the LP offers better performance all around. This includes better sound staging, detail, timbre, depth, width, separation, in addition to similar but more emotive tonality.

    I really do like the sound of both of these headphone amplifiers. Moreover, anyone interested in a Cavalli audio product offered at a reasonable price, would do well to consider either of these offerings from Monoprice.

    Earlier...

    I've owned a Cavalli Liquid Spark for over two years now and continue to enjoy this little gem of a headphone amplifier. Having purchased the Cavalli Liquid Platinum over the holidays, I have since been able to carefully compare these two headphone amplifiers.

    So, is the LP so much better than the Liquid Spark that it warrants a price increase that's more than 7 fold?

    It all comes down to the law of diminishing returns. I think that while both of these amplifiers have the Cavalli house sound, the Liquid Platinum is clearly the better headphone amplifier in every way. Better sound staging, width, depth, micro and macro dynamics; better resolution and layering.

    And in fully balanced mode the LP has much more power than the LS, which enables it to run just about any headphone.

    IMHO, the LP is also the best sounding headphone amplifier in the sub $1000 market, which is no easy feat. I say this given how competitive this market is.

    However, the LS is close enough to the LP to be an endgame component for many enthusiasts in this hobby. What it accomplishes at around $100 is truly impressive. I have four headphone amplifiers in the $100 price range; each of which I have listened to and compared over the past few years: The original Schiit Magni 3, the JDS Labs Atom, the Loxjie P20 and the Cavalli Liquid Spark.

    While I think that the four of these headphone amplifiers offer benchmark performance in the $100 price range, I prefer the Loxjie P20 and Cavalli Liquid Spark over the other two. Why? Because to me they sound more organic.

    While the Magni 3 and the JDS Labs Atom have a more aggressive and incisive sound, I find them to be more fatiguing to listen to for any length of time.

    It's not that they don't sound good. It is just that they have to be more carefully matched with a headphone that is less aggressive sounding. Equalization also helps here.

    Which brings me back to the Liquid Spark and why I like it so much. The LS has a rich full sound that while not particularly accurate, reminds me more of a tube amplifier than a solid state one.

    And for this reason I can listen to it for hours on end without suffering from listener fatigue. The LS also puts out over 2 watts of power into 32 ohms and about 1.5 watts of power into 50 ohms; ideal for many planar magnetic headphones, including my Fostex T50RP MK3, and Hifiman HE 4XX.

    Dr. Alex Cavalli has done a fine job of collaborating with Monoprice to bring the Liquid Platinum and Liquid Spark to market. And by doing so, allowed the masses to finally experience the type of sound quality that only a small group of Hi-Fi enthusiasts would have been able to experience in the past.

    Earlier:

    I purchased this headphone amplifier as an open box back in the Winter of 2018. A month earlier, the Liquid Spark had just hit the market and there were already several positive reviews about Alex Cavalli having another winner on his hands. I had decided to pick one up but wanted to wait to see if there might be some open box units for sale. Sure enough, a few surfaced on E-bay a short time later, so I bought one.

    For starters, I like the Cavalli Liquid Spark for the same reason I like all of my headphone amplifiers. It represents great value for one's audio dollar. The LS is well made, nice looking and pleasant sounding. It also puts out plenty of power; especially into 32 to 50 ohm impedance headphones. Thus it came as a pleasant surprise that the LS had no problem driving my *Hifiman HE4XX (35 ohms)and *Fostex T50RP MK3 (50 ohms) planar magnetic headphones with plenty of headroom to spare. The mids have a bit of warmth to them, yet don't lose their definition in the process like some overly colored sounding headphone amplifiers do.

    *I think that these two headphones from Fostex and Hifiman represent the law of diminishing returns in the audio hobby, since one would have to spend considerably more money to obtain a headphone that improves on them. I've found that all of my sub $100 headphone amplifiers work quite well with my Fostex T50RP MK3 and Hifiman HE4XX. When combined with my Schiit LOKI Mini graphic equalizer, I have reached the law of diminishing returns with either of these headphones and the following headphone amplifiers: Schiit Magni 3, Schiit Asgard 3, Monolith Cavalli Liquid Spark, Garage1217 Project Starlight, JDS Labs ATOM and the Loxjie P20.

    The Liquid Spark is also an excellent match with the Audioquest Nighthawk Carbon. There's a synergy between these two components (the same is true of the *Nighthawk Carbon with my Hagerman Audio Labs Castanet and Eddie Current EC/SS headphone amplifiers) which brings out the best in each of them.

    *The Nighthawk Carbon is a polarizing headphone which some people really like, while others don't. It can sound dark and a bit closed in without equalization. However, with proper equalization the Nighthawk Carbon's midrange and treble open up considerably to create a very spacious sound. And I have yet to wear a set of headphones which is more comfortable than the Nighthawk Carbons.

    If a headphone amplifier can be said to be musical, then the LS is musical.

    As for the Cavalli Liquid Spark, the better your source the better it will sound. However, it is not as punishing of poor sources as some of my more expensive headphone amplifiers are, which can be of benefit given the considerable amount of poorly recorded music uploaded to the Internet.

    On the other hand, the LS really sounds great when it is fed a first rate digital recording. I like this amplifier for a number of reasons, but perhaps most of all, because it enables someone who cannot afford one of Alex Cavalli's more expensive headphone amp's, to still be able to sample the Cavalli house sound at a much more affordable price.

    For this Hi-Fi enthusiast, this headphone amp is a no brainer. It sounds good, looks good and is well built. The LS will also run just about any headphone adequately - and Hi-Fi wise - costs (about $99!) next to nothing.

    On top of this, it also takes up next to no space! After nearly a year of ownership I am still happily rotating my LS in and out of my headphone system, where it's found a permanent home.

    I've also read recently that Monoprice is coming out with matching DAC's for both the Cavalli Liquid Spark and Cavalli Liquid Platinum, which should be for sale over the next few months.


    Meier Audio Corda Jazz ff
    Availability - New Through Meier Audio (Germany)/Used - Fairly Rare - Can Sometimes Be Found On EBay, Canuckmart, US Audiomart, Audiogon & Headfi From Time To Time


    UPDATE: I've had my Meier Corda Jazz ff for a few months now and continue to enjoy it. It's volume control is a bit quirky in order to offer perfect balance at all volume levels, however, this feature works quite well. I also like the natural sound of the Jazz ff. It's organic, and offers fatigue-free listening for hours on end.

    Jan Meier knows what he's doing, and has created some excellent products since opening Meier Audio in 2000.

    Earlier..

    I am presently using my Corda Jazz ff with my Sennheiser HD600 headphones and really do enjoy the pairing. The Jazz ff offers plenty of clean power with the HD600s. I am going to try the Corda Jazz ff with my HD6XX and will document this pairing as well.

    Earlier... After using my Jazz ff for the past few days I can see why this headphone amplifier is popular. It's very natural sounding. I have thus far used it with my Fostex T50RP MK 3, T60RP and Sennheiser HD600 headphones. With each set of headphones I was impressed with how the Jazz simply got out of the way and allowed me to hear the music that I was listening to. There's no coloration with this headphone amp, nor is it fatiguing to listen to. And, in spite of it's being solid state, the Jazz ff is very musical.

    I am interested to see how it synergizes with some of the my other headphones, so I will update my experiences with these at a later time.

    Earlier: My Meier Corda Jazz ff headphone amplifier arrived yesterday. Like the seller said, this headphone amplifier is in as new condition. It has about 10 hours on it and is yet not completely broken in.

    First impressions are as follows: Very nicely finished. A quality product in every respect. Also, very small in stature. Some products photograph larger than they look. This was also the case with my Violectric V100. Had I not read about other Violectric owners remarking about how these headphone amps and dacs were much smaller than they looked in photographs, I would have been surprised as well. The same is true for the Meier Corda Jazz ff. It is a small amplifier dimension wise, and only weighs about 2 lbs.

    However, sonically, it's actually quite impressive. I am still getting used to it, including one ideosyncracy that I was not aware of. In order to insure that the volume on the Jazz ff is always perfectly balanced, the amplifier's volume control never turns the volume down completely. This means that once you turn the amplifier on, you can always hear whatever source material is playing through your headphones.

    Of course the volume is low, and increases as you turn up the volume knob.

    I am going to be testing the Jazz ff with various headphones during the autumn months, and into the Holiday Season, and will update my experiences with this neat piece of gear once I do.

    Earlier...

    I recently purchased a used Meier Corda Jazz ff headphone amplifier for $175. With shipping and sales tax the total cost was about $200. (These amplifiers usually cost about $350 + sales tax and other applicable charges, so at $175 there's a 50% discount - At one point they were actually selling for about $450). The amplifier is said to have been purchased new in 2021 and as such advertised as being practically new. I will update my experiences with the Jazz ff once it arrives. I am particularly interested in trying out the crossfeed feature on this headphone amplifier; something Meier Audio is known for doing a fine job of implementing.


    Behringer MiniFBQ800
    Availability - New Via Behringer Website & Other Internet Venues/Used - Available On Ebay And Amazon From Time To Time


    UPDATE: July 2022
    I am presently using the Behringer MiniFBQ800 in both balanced and single ended mode with my Schiit Modius and Jotunheim V1. This is the daily driver system that I have chosen to use during the summer months, since these components run cool (the Jotunheim running fairly cool).

    They also sound great for the money. I also like to use both single ended and balanced outputs on the Jotunheim V1 to run a pair of Sennheiser HD600 and Hifiman HE4XX headphones simultaneously. Since both are open air headphones, I hang these headphones near each other for a two channel speaker effect. This works well during the warm summer days, where it's too hot to actually wear headphones.

    Earlier...

    I have used the MiniFBQ800 with the Schiit Fulla 2, and it has become my favorite affordable headphone system. I purchased my Fulla 2 through Schiit as a new old stock (NOS) component for about $89, and my MiniFBQ800 for about $64. So for a total cost of $153 this system offers a discrete digital to analogue converter using the AKM4490 chip, a 9 band graphic equalizer, and a headphone amplifier, for well under $200 delivered. Add a pair of affordable headphones and an inexpensive music streaming source such as an Amazon Fire HD10, and you have a quality headfi system for under $300 all in!

    Earlier...

    The MiniFBQ800 is a great little 9 band graphic equalizer for about $65, including shipping and sales tax. I am presently using it with my Schiit Jotunheim 1 headphone amplifier and Schiit Modius DAC, as part of a fully balanced system.

    This system sounds quite good with my Hifiman HE4XX and Fostex T50RP MK3 planar magnetic headphones. I plan on listening to it with my *Sennheiser headphones in the near future and will include my findings once I do.

    *I've been listening to this system with my Sennheiser HD600's and it really is a synergistic combination. Very clean and musical. Plenty of detail, decent bass and excellent mid's and treble. I will update my experience with this system with my HD6XX's when I have some time.


    Loxjie P20
    Availability - New On Amazon And E-bay/Also Commonly Available Used Via Internet Venues

    Update April 2022: After nearly four years with my Loxjie P20, I still think that this is just a great all around headphone amplifier for the money. In my experience, the P20 also synergizes quite well my inexpensive planar magnetic headphones. I paid about $94 for my P20 in 2018, which included an extended 4 year warranty.

    The P20 is well made, uses excellent parts, and is a solid design. However, this amplifier fits in the palm of your hand, and IMHO, its diminutive size gives one the impression that it can't possibly be as good as it is.

    That is until you close your eyes and simply listen to music through the P20, which is when its small size disappears, and you're left with an expansive and dynamic sound stage belying the P20's small stature.

    So after nearly four years would I still recommend a Loxjie P20 to a budding headfi enthusiast? Absolutely!

    Earlier...

    I've owned my Loxjie P20 for over two years now and if anything, I appreciate its sound quality and value even more now than I did when I purchased it.

    The P20 must be considered the real "sleeper" headphone amplifier in the $100 price bracket, because of its Chinese lineage. I say this because the P20 did not get the attention early on in the North American market that it deserved.

    When the P20 debuted in 2018, it had no competition at all. It retailed for just under $100, was fully balanced, used quality components, and had a tube input stage and a digital stepped volume pot. Its innards were also housed in an attractive, well constructed aluminum chassis.

    Yet, it was largely ignored, until word got out in regard to what a bargain this little gem of a headphone amplifier is.

    In single ended mode, the P20's performance is - to say the least - unimpressive. However, set for fully balanced mode, the P20 becomes a formidable competitor to headphone amplifiers costing more than four times its price; and in many instances, bests them sonically.

    In addition to the P20, I also own three other headphone amplifiers in the $100 price range: an original Schiit Magni 3, a JDS Labs Atom, and a Monoprice Cavalli Liquid Spark.

    The Liquid Spark and the P20 are my favorite of the four of these headphone amplifiers, because they have a more organic sound than the ATOM or Magni 3.

    As such, they don't suffer from the listener fatigue than the ATOM and Magni 3 can, especially when the latter two are paired with more aggressive sounding headphones. This is not to say that the Magni 3 and ATOM can't sound good. They can, except that the headphones chosen for use with these headphone amplifiers must be less aggressive sounding.

    The anti "Chi-Fi" detractors have been quick to disregard the P20, in an attempt to find any faults that they can with it. However, the P20 offers so much value for one's audio dollar, that objective headphone enthusiasts who are looking for value, quickly recognize just how good the P20 is and snap them up.

    Since its debut, the P20 has taken on a kind of cult status, offering exemplary performance for very little money. The P20 runs my Hifiman HE4XX headphones beautifully in fully balanced mode, as well as my Sennheiser HD600 and HD6XX headphones. When paired with these headphones, a Schiit Modius DAC and a Schiit LOKI Mini graphic equalizer, this system can be end game for many head-fi enthusiasts - and at a very reasonable price.

    Earlier...

    The Loxjie P20 was new to the headphone audio market in the Fall of 2018. At the time it had little competition in its price range and offered a lot more for the same money. The competition included the Schiit Magni 3 (which had been around for a year), the Monoprice Monolith Cavalli Liquid Spark, and the JDS Labs Atom - both of which were introduced about the same time as the P20.

    The P20 is the least expensive headphone amplifier ever offered with a fully balanced circuit topology and stepped volume control. In single ended mode its performance is lethargic and lackluster. However, in *fully balanced mode the Loxjie P20 actually sounds surprisingly good with a number of my headphones. And it truly excels with the inexpensive planar magnetic headphones I own - the Hifiman HE4XX and the Fostex T50RP MK3. I upgraded the stock input tubes with a pair of Riverside Audio replacements, and they offer subtle, yet significant improvement to the sound of the P20.

    * I have recently been using the Loxjie P20 with my Schiit Modius dac in fully balanced mode. This combo sounds quite good and offers great value for the money. I only wish that the LOKI Mini graphic equalizer were also balanced, so that I could use it in this balanced system. The P20/Modius combo cost $309 delivered (the Modius was Schiit B Stock) and IMO rivals any headphone amplifier/dac on the market at this price.

    What I find most impressive about the Loxjie P20 is that when it is matched with a suitable headphone like the Fostex T50RP MK3 or Hifiman HE4XX, the midrange of the P20 offers detail that is palpable. Just make sure to use well recorded source material, because the P20 will reveal every flaw in a recording. Something that is remarkable for a sub $100 headphone amplifier.

    As for build quality, the P20 is very well built. It's chassis is aluminum and its circuit board is well laid out using quality components, including WIMA capacitors.

    For the money the Loxjie P20 is the proverbial no brainer.

    It faithfully honors the music and sounds much better than it has a right to at its low price. It punches well above its price class and should be on the shortlist of anyone who's looking for a well built, great sounding headphone amplifier for a peanut's price.

    Those looking to enter this hobby without spending a fortune will find that this is indeed the best time ever documented to be a Headphone enthusiast. I say this because there are several excellent sub $100 headphone amplifiers to choose from. And, there are also several sub $200 headphones to choose from, including my personal favorites - the Fostex T50RP MK3 and the HiFiman HE4XX.


    JDS Labs Atom
    Availability - Available New On The JDS Labs Website/Also Frequently Available Used On E-bay & Other Internet Venues

    Update: I've owned my JDS Labs Atom for over three years now and my initial impressions for the most part remain. For $99 the Atom is a terrific headphone amplifier for the money. It has a clean, fairly detailed sound, and errs mostly by omission rather than commission. As an entry level headphone amplifier it does everything well. (The latest version of the Atom appears to be a subtle improvement over the original). As far as an act of commission is concerned, where the Atom compares to some of my more expensive headphone amplifiers, I find that while the Atom can easily outperform them based on its objective performance, these headphone amp's produce greater detail and are more involving to listen to. Of course, this is my own personal subjective opinion, however, I have found them to be listenable for much longer periods of time than the Atom, without suffering from the listener fatigue that I find apparent after more than an hour or so of listening to the Atom.

    Earlier:

    I've owned my JDS Labs Atom for nearly a year now and the following are some of my observations. The Atom is as close to a wire with gain as you can get at any price. If it errs at all, its by omission rather than commission.

    The Atom has as black a background as any headphone amplifier I have ever heard. The sound is full and clean. Nothing euphonic, not sterile.

    It has a surprising amount of power, even with my higher impedance headphones. It will run every headphone that I own from 25 ohms to 600 ohms quite well, making it a very flexible product.

    As for criticisms that it is cheaply made, I would have to say the money on the Atom is spent on its internals. It is a fling-able fly weight in that it weighs next to nothing. Moreover, the volume control does have a cheap feel to it that does detract from the overall quality. However, I am not familiar with any problem with the volume control aside from its cheap feel.

    At $99, the JDS Labs Atom offers exemplary performance. This is not just an excellent headphone amplifier at the price. It's an excellent headphone amplifier at any price. The fact that it can be had so inexpensively is just another reason to purchase it.

    I really like this company. John Seaber, the owner (hence the JDS in JDS Labs) understands the importance of quality customer service, and Mr. Seaber, himself, answers Emails regarding questions to his products. How many companies do you know of where you as a consumer can speak directly to the president of the company?

    There are an increasing number of small American companies either getting into the headphone business, or who have been in this business for many years, whether by manufacturing headphones, headphone amplifiers, DAC's or graphic equalizers.

    Decware Audio, Beezar Audio, Garage1217, Toolshed Audio, DNA Audio, JDS Labs, Eddie Current, Hagerman Audio Labs, Schiit Audio, Geshelli Labs and Bottle Head Audio, have become some of the better known of these companies. As an American I seek to support American companies whenever I can and hope that we will once again become the manufacturing power that we were decades ago.


    Schiit Fulla 2
    Availability - New Through Schiit B Stock/Used - Fairly Common On Ebay & Other Internet Venues


    UPDATE: It's been about a month since I began using my Schiit Fulla 2 DAC/Headphone AMP to power my IEM headfi system, and I am liking it more each day.

    I also recently tried powering my Fostex T50RP MK3 planar headphones with the Fulla 2 and LOKI Mini. I was pleasantly surprised that with the LOKI, the Fulla 2 had more than enough to power to play these headphones quite loud. The Fulla 2 by itself does not play them nearly as loud.

    The Amazon Fire HD10 V.9, along with the Schiit Fulla 2, LOKI Mini, Linsoul KZ ZST X or BASN B Master Triple, represents an incredible value in an affordable headfi system. I said this a month ago, and I am even more convinced of it now than I was back then.

    The cost of this system with the Linsoul KZ ZST X is only $341! A headfi system that sounds this good should cost a heck of a lot more than one just shy of $350. As a penurious Hi-Fi enthusiast, I am always impressed with audio equipment that represents great value, and this system most certainly does.

    I have never actually recommended a headfi system before given the subjective nature of this hobby, however, I am doing so in regard to this system, since I seriously doubt that there is a better value to be found in this hobby at the $341 price. Especially when considering just how nice this system sounds.

    Earlier...

    I have been using the following headfi system over the past few days and consider it to be perhaps the best overall value in a headfi system that is presently available. The system is comprised of the following: Amazon Fire HD 10 Version 9, Schiit Fulla 2 *DAC/Headphone amp, Schiit LOKI Mini graphic equalizer, and one of the following transducers: Koss KSC 75 headphones, BASN B Master Triple IEM's, or Linsoul KZ ZST X IEM's.

    * The DAC in the Schitt Fulla 2 uses a 4490 computer chip (the same chip used in the Schiit Modi 2 Uber DAC). The Fulla 2 DAC is also very similar in its implementation to the Schiit Modi 2 Uber delta sigma DAC.

    The cost of this system with the KSC 75 is $331, with the Linsoul KZ ZST X is $341, or with the BASN B Master Triple is $398. Add about thirty dollars for interconnects and the price of these headfi systems ranges from around $350 to $450 for a complete, quality headfi system that rivals systems costing significantly more.

    Perhaps the nicest part is that this audio system runs cool. Moreover, the IEM's and KOSS KSC 75 headphones don't overheat your ears the way that full sized headphones do during the warmer months of the year.

    The Fulla 2 is no longer available from Schiit as an A stock product, however, Schiit occasionally sells it as B stock item. Please be aware that it does sell out quickly though.

    Earlier... I decided to try my Schiit Fulla 2 with my Linsoul KZ ZST X (12 ohms) and BASN B Master Triple (18 ohm) IEM's. The Fulla 2 actually works quite well with both pairs of these IEM's and it's very quiet. Moreover, since it also runs cool I have decided to use it during the summer; rotating it in my head-fi system along with my three other cool running headphone amplifiers: The Emotiva BASX A-100, Schiit Fulla 2, and JDS Labs ATOM.

    The Fulla 2 is a really nice little headphone amplifier/DAC that IMHO represents the best value in audio equipment sold by this company. Of course the Asgard 3 offers exceptional value as well.

    Earlier...

    *The Schiit Fulla 2 is a Swiss Army Knife in terms of its flexibility. It's a DAC and a headphone amplifier, and can be used in a number of different ways.

    I recently purchased a B stock Schiit Fulla 2 from Schiit Audio and have been listening to it in different systems. Since my intention is always to seek "great sounding" bargains in this hobby, I had been wondering for quite some time how the Fulla 2 would sound when used with the LOKI graphic equalizer.

    I decided to run a 3.5mm to a pair of RCA audio cables from the DAC output of the Fulla 2 directly to the RCA inputs on the LOKI Mini, and then run another pair of RCA to a single 3.5 mm cable, back to the analogue input on the front of the Fulla 2. This essentially makes the Fulla 2 a DAC, graphic equalizer and headphone amplifier.

    Based on my listening experience, the LOKI greatly enhances the flexibility of the Fulla 2 and I highly recommend this combination for anyone who wants an affordable headphone amplifier/DAC/equalizer for under $300. The LOKI Mini B stock and Fulla 2 B stock cost me about $230 delivered, and I cannot think of any system that offers more performance for your audio dollar. Add a nice pair of headphones and you have a system that can for many, offer a very satisfying listening experience for years to come. The LOKI RCA outputs can also be sent directly to the inputs of another headphone amplifier, while only the DAC portion of the Fulla 2 is used, offering even greater flexibility.


    LS3/5A Insanity!

    When a newer 60Th Anniversary version of this speaker was introduced a few years ago, it was priced at $4500, and this has since led to the run up in the prices of older BBC licensed LS3/5A speakers (from a number of different manufacturers). However, in the case of the 60Th Anniversary model, the price reflected the cost of materials and labor in the present day. Spending this much on a thirty to forty year old pair of LS3/5As whose transducers and crossovers are also that old is crazy.

    Especially when taking inflation into account, since my $550 pair of LS3/5A's would cost around $1200 today. I'm not saying that these older speakers are not worth a premium, when they are in excellent condition. However, spending $3000 - $4000 on a pair of decades old LS3/5As (regardless of how good a shape they are in) is a bad investment. This is especially true for the ratty looking LS3/5As whose parts are several decades old, like a pair that sold on E-bay some time ago for more than $4500.

    When These Speakers Are Out Pricing Brand New Offerings Of LS3/5A's - Including Those From The Latest BBC Licensed LS3/5A Manufacturer Falcon Audio - (A Company That Has Also Gone To The Trouble Of Tooling Up To Manufacture Original B110 Woofers And T27 Tweeters For Their Own Incarnation Of The Much Heralded 15 Ohm Version Of The LS3/5A!) It Is Just Plain Crazy To Spend So Much Money On Older LS3/5A Speakers Based Not On Excellent Sonic Performance, But Rather Nostalgia.

    Paying so much is not even logical, much less practical. Rogers' 11 OHM version of the LS3/5A sounds just as nice as its 15 OHM sibling (and while not cheap, is a bargain next to the 15 OHM version of the LS3/5A). If you plan on keeping these speakers consider the 11 OHM version (which is more efficient than the 15 OHM version and can be partnered with a wider array of high quality low powered amplifiers), and save yourself a few grand in the process.

    Bedini 10/10 Classic

  • JimmyBlues Adventures In Aquascaping
  • *McIntosh Tuner Owners & Enthusiasts Can Click On The Following Photo of My Beautiful Circa 1963 McIntosh MR-65B (McIntosh's First Factory Offered Stereo Tuner), To Get Information On All MAC Tuners Beginning With The MR-55 Mono Tuner Of The Late 1950's. Over the years I have seen the MR-65B's price vary dramatically depending on its condition. The one at the following Website had been bid up to nearly $1200 on an Ebay auction - far more inline with Audio Classic's $2000 pricing for this particular unit in good condition. I own two of these beauties including the one in the following photo. In my opinion, the MR-65B is the most beautiful looking of all McIntosh tuners, and one of the best sounding FM tuners ever built.

    JIMMYBLUES HI-FI COMPENDIUM

    McIntosh MR-65B -- One of the rarest of all Mac tuners and most valuable -- Audio Classics sells these for $2000 in good condition (that is when they actually have them for sale at all). Given that they are nearly 50 years old, it's becoming tougher to find an MR-65B in nice shape. Only 1600 were ever built. The MR-65B was the first stereo tube tuner built by McIntosh. It was manufactured from 1962 until 1964. I have acquired two of these classic beauties since 2008. One is completely serviced and in a nice original walnut cabinet, while the other is sans cabinet and working in monaural only.

    Both are in near mint cosmetic condition, with all lettering intact on one, and most of the lettering intact on the other. The chassis are without rust and the chrome is in excellent condition. Especially considering that these MR-65B's are nearly fifty years old! They are easily two of the finest remaining examples of McIntosh's first stereo tube FM tuner.

    Classic McIntosh MR-65B Tube Tuner


    Looking For Some New Music?
    Who Isn't?

    For those of you who are always looking for new musical artists (who isn't?), the following lady is truly a remarkable talent. And as you shall see, quite beautiful as well. Carolyn Leonhart is best known as a backup singer for Steely Dan, having recently toured with Becker and Fagan. Not one to give compliments freely, Fagan once referred to Leonart's virtuosity in the following quote: "this chick's one swingin' canary!" Don't be surprised if her sultry voice takes you back to extraordinary vocalists from another time, including Lena Horne and Ella Fitzgerald. And like the latter ladies of jazz, Leonhart, too, is truly something special.

    More On Vocalist Carolyn Leonhart

    See more on the famous Leak Troughline tuner:

  • The Leak Troughline Tuner Series

  • Vintage Pioneer TX-7800 Tuner


    Classic Marantz Model 125 FM Tuner

  • Excellent Vintage Hi-Fi Online Museum

  • Some Recent Tuner Acquisitions

    Revox B261

    Revox B261 -- A behemoth of a tuner; beautifully built and great sounding -- the tuner website that did the shootout is a wonderful addition, and great benefit to this hobby. However, in my opinion the fellow who did the review of the B261 either had one that needed to be serviced, or has specific listening tastes.

    A number of people have remarked at what a superb sounding tuner the B261 is and that it easily holds its own with its even more famous sibling -- the B760. And while I have never heard a B760, I have to say that the B261 is a superb sounding tuner, and in my opinion more elegant looking than the B760.

    I have also noticed that the B760's regularly come up on the American Ebay site, however I have yet to see a B261 for sale on this site. I had to go to a foreign Ebay Website and use language translator software to purchase my B261 from a Swedish seller, who only spoke German. It was a lot of time and effort, but well worth it, since I finally have a tuner that I have wanted for many years. The B261 is a beautifully manufactured and engineered product that was built to offer years of faithful service.

    *Note that the B261 has a green plastic strip installed between the two bulbs that are used to illuminate the tuning and digital readout displays, which gets burn marks on it after years of use, that diminish the intensity of the bulbs. Removing it altogether takes about 5 seconds, and brings back the brightness of these displays by a considerable margin.

    Marantz Model 125

    Marantz Model 125 -- One of the prettiest tuners ever made, and just as good sounding as the Model 150 (the two are basically the same circuit topology -- the Model 150 basically differs only in its use of an oscilloscope, while the the Marantz 125 uses two vertically mounted tuning meters).

    As such, the Model 125 continues to rank as one of the best values in hi-end tuners. Regularly selling in good condition for under $300, and up to $400 for a mint unit, the Marantz 125 is an affordable classic that competes favorably with the best; even if its DX performance is slightly off that of the best tuners available.

    Its wonderful sound quality has earned it the respect of tuner officionados the world over. And then there's that smoked perspex glass with the red, blue and tan lights, that is so reminscent of the flash of the 1970's audio market.

    Some of my fondest earliest memories of music and audio are of a Marantz 2230 receiver that I'd gotten from my folks as a 16TH Birthday present back in the 1970's. I used to spend hours on Friday and Saturday evenings listening to groups like the Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, Elton John, and Pink Floyd. Many times I'd find myself staring into the darkness listening to disc jockies like the "The Night Bird" (the late Alison Steele), while admiring the 2230's colorful facade. Even if it was just for a few hours at night, and despite the myriad of problems which the human race was experiencing at the time, during those few magical hours, all seemed right with the world.

    The Model 125 shares this same facade - it's just plain cool to look at while listening to your favorite radio stations, and good value in vintage tunerdom. A tuner like the Pioneer TX-7800 given its similar performance and much lower selling price must be considered a great value.

    Tandberg 3011A

    Tandberg 3011A -- A beautifully made and aethestic work of art, the 3011A is one of the nicest sounding FM tuners ever made. And like my old Saab 99EMS (also of Norwegian origin) equally as ideosyncratic. A good, but not great dx'er, the 3011A resides in a black aluminum low profile chassis, which sports a relatively large footprint. It's red, orange and white tuning lights offering a nice contrast to its black facia.

    The 3011A sold new in 1982 for $695, but can be had in the modern day for as little as $225, for one which needs a new internal battery and new set of presets. While some have said that if the presets on the 3011A go bad (the same for its 3001A, 3001 and 3011 siblings), it becomes impossible to tune in stations, this has not been the case in my experience. The 3011A tunes in stations through a touch-tune system, in which the tuning knob will electronically disengage the moment that you touch it, only to reengage the moment that you remove your fingers from the knob.

    The 3011A's controls have a precison feel to them that exudes an air of quality. If you're thinking about becoming a collector of vintage FM tuners, the 3011A is a great place to start.

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